On My Feet: Giving the Homeless a Hand up Through Running
Most runners can attest to the confidence boosting abilities of consistent running. Not only is a fit and strong body generally a much happier place to live in, but having the discipline and diligence to keep at it provides both mental and emotional perks as well. And while hundreds of thousands of runners from all walks of life reap these benefits on a daily basis, Keegan Crage came up with a concept to take it to those who need it most. Through the On My Feet initiative, Crage and his team literally give the homeless a hand up through running.
What is On My Feet?
Based on the philosophy that “those dealing with homelessness need a hand up and not a hand out”, the On My Feet team provides pathways to education and employment to homeless and long-term unemployed individuals through their commitment to running. But how? First of all, the program does not aim to create champion runners. Instead, it focuses on building independence, a sense of self-worth and a positive contribution to communities through consistent running.
And how is this achieved, you ask? Well, the program basically uses the power of running to:
- Build up self-worth through positive reinforcement and being a part of the running community
- Create a sense of purpose through training for goal races, as well as the possibility of future education and employment
- Create self-sufficiency by introducing program participants to potential employers and educational programs once they reach an attendance record of 90%
The program’s creators reason that a 90% attendance record requires discipline, perseverance, commitment and a positive attitude. All qualities that are believed to be vital in obtaining and keeping a good job.
The On My Feet initiative basically uses a two-step program to reach its objectives. Foot Step 1, as it is called, is also referred to as the Self-Worth Plan. In this phase of the program, participants are provided with basic running gear and asked to run with the group three times a week. All participants sign a Commitment Contract and Personal Goals Statement and, with the help of volunteers and the running community, and through dedication, commitment, friendship and teamwork, self-worth is rebuilt one step at a time. Attendance, attitude and distance covered is monitored for every participant on every run. One month and an attendance record of 90% is required to successfully complete Foot Step 1.
After the successful completion of Foot Step 1, participants move on to Foot Step 2, which focuses on providing meaningful opportunities to those in need. During this phase of the program, each participant receives an individualized Independence Plan. This plan outlines the development of each individual’s skills through training and education, and is anticipated to enable them to seek employment opportunities with selected On My Feet partners.
In some instances, limited financial assistance may be given to selected participants in order to overcome barriers on the route to independence. These barriers include transport and obtaining tools for a specific job.
Weekly training runs
At present On My Feet operates in Australia and South Africa, with weekly training runs taking place in Perth, Fremantle, Rockingham, Melbourne, Sidney and Cape Town. Australian-based runs take place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 17:30 to 18:00 (except on public holidays) and all are welcome to attend.
The program motivates and rewards consistent participants in a number of different ways. First of all, those who attain a 90% attendance record after the first month of training, receive a new pair of running shoes. In addition, participants receive a series of milestone shirts after completing 50, 100, 150, 200, 250 and 300 kilometers, respectively.
Other program activities
But it doesn’t end there. In addition to weekly training runs, On My Feet also provides program participants the opportunity to participate in local races. With the help of some local running clubs, On My Feet runners regularly compete in races free of charge. To date program participants have completed 5K, 10K, half marathon and even full marathon events. Through discipline and determination two individuals that conquered the marathon distance have gone on to fill the roles of Perth Coordinator and Recruitment Coordinator for On My Feet, respectively.
Race participation is not compulsory for program participants. The program does, however, help and encourage those who feel up to it.
Participants residing in Fremantle, receive an additional, very exciting perk. The Notre Dame University Fremantle’s School of Health Sciences offers On Your Feet participants free six-monthly health and fitness screenings. These screenings provide black-on-white evidence of the physical benefits of consistent running and further motivate participants to keep at it.
But, as mentioned before, it’s not all about running. One of the key objectives of the On My Feet program is engaging participants in education that will eventually lead to self-sufficiency through employment. Therefore, in Foot Step 2 of the program, those participants displaying discipline, determination, perseverance and a positive attitude get free access to online education programs in a field that suits their interest. A number of pre-identified libraries can be accessed by participants for this purpose.
Some of the courses on offer, are:
- Customer Service
- Health Studies
- Human Resources
- Mental Health Studies
- Nursing and Patient Care
- Outdoor and Physical Education
So while for some runners the confidence boosting ability of running contributes to a fuller and more meaningful life, for others it literally means getting a second chance in life. All the more reason to lace up, get out there and be a supportive member of the global running community!