In donated Nikes, 20 homeless men and women from the Philadelphia running club Back on My Feet will sweat alongside the thousands of other people in the Baltimore Running Festival Saturday.

“It’s a lot harder to throw my life away when other people hope I make it and look to me to change and represent the program,” said Gideon Haileselassie, 34, who left drugs and living on the street for a shelter and membership in Back on My Feet.

The nonprofit organization will establish its first out-of-Philly program in Baltimore in March 2009. The program partners homeless men and women with volunteers, mostly young professionals, to complete 1- to 13-mile runs four mornings a week at 5:45 a.m.

Anne Mahlum, a 26-year-old blonde originally from North Dakota, founded Back on My Feet in spring 2007. The spark that set off the phenomenon lauded by CNN and other national media outlets started the morning she waved on her daily run to a group of homeless men.

“I waved because where I’m from that’s what you do when you see someone,” she said. “So every day I would wave and then keep running. In May, I finally realized ‘What am I doing? Why am I just running away and leaving them there?’”

In less than two years, Back of My Feet has expanded from nine homeless men and Mahlum to more than 400 volunteers and 80 homeless men and women.

“Running is so powerful and doesn’t discriminate,” Mahlum said. “You get the same runners’ high whether you’re white, black, homeless or have 20 homes. Accomplishing a run gives you something to feel good about. Everybody in this world is looking for a place they feel they belong and feel loved and supported. Back on My Feet is the piece of humanity missing in this world.”

In March 2009, Baltimore’s 3,000 homeless will have the opportunity to run in teams and get their lives back on track.

“We offer career centers, corporate connections and financial assistance for the members to move out into their own place once they get a job,” Mahlum said. “It’s all about second chances, salvation, redemption. People get involved in program and become attached to the members. It shows people do still have the human decency to care about others.”

You can help Baltimore’s Back on My Feet pilot program by:
making a tax-deductible donation to the BOMF Baltimore Fund
becoming a “fund-racer” in an upcoming race, where you earn donations for every mile you clock
joining the mailing list to stay informed.
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