Running program helping homeless get back on their feet

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Dozens of people who spend life on the streets are now hitting them to turn their lives around.

They do so through an organization named “Back on My Feet,” a nonprofit that helps the homeless restart their lives. The first step they take towards making that happen starts simply with running, and the support they get from volunteers and others who walked in their shoes pushes them each morning.

Eager and determined, at a time when most might still be asleep, this group circles up to hit the pavement. Some will go to work in a couple hours while others really have nowhere to go. Chippie Withers is one of them.

“I reached a point of you know what, I’m just doing the same thing,” he said.

Withers is homeless, splitting time between men’s shelters and staying with family. But with his new family by his side, he’s moving in a different direction.

“Heard about the program and I said to myself you know what, I’m in,” he said.

“It’s 100 percent voluntary,” said Brian Meyer, program director for the Indianapolis chapter of Back on My Feet.

“The way I see it, it’s a second chance, or a third or fourth chance for the men and women who participate in our program.”

Meyer finds participants through Wheeler Mission Ministries and the Hoosier Veteran’s Assistance Foundation. Once signed up, they run three days a week at 5:45 a.m. for one month.

“Running can teach you a lot about setting goals and attaining goals. It can teach you a lot about being accountable to yourself. In the case of our program, being accountable to your teammates,” Meyer said. “I think you get big increases in self confidence and self esteem.”

If participants stick with it, they graduate to programs that will help them re-enter society and hopefully the working world.

“The guys get a lot of assistance through the John Bonner Center. They partner with us on financial literacy programs as well as job readiness programs,” he said.

The local chapter started three years ago.

“We’ve served over 300 people in our program since we started and out of those we have probably around 100 alumni members,” said Meyer.

Alumni like Garrett Holove. Holove is a cook at Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital, working a job he loves and one he’s forever grateful to have.

“It kind of blows my mind where I was at and where I am now,” Holove said.

He used to spend his nights at the Wheeler Mission Ministries Shelter and his days roaming downtown.

“It was just a constant depressing mess,” he said. “I had nothing to reach for. And when you have nothing to reach for you have almost no hope.”

Luckily, he found hope through the dedicated people at Back on My Feet. Holove graduated the program, got a job and an apartment, and just last month ran in his first marathon ever.

“It was one of the best experiences of my entire life,” he said.

To train for those races, he comes right back to where it all started. Holove runs a few days a week with current members of Back on My Feet with the hope that his story with help them sprint to the finish line.

“I can’t help but want to give back and to help inspire others to do longer and longer runs and everything like that because back on my feet, it’s been so much more for me than just simply running,” he said.

Holove isn’t just another alumni of the program. He was honored last week as the local chapter’s “Member of the Year” for his accomplishments.

Back on my Feet members won’t be running in the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, but many of them are training for the Monumental Marathon this fall.

About 50 homeless people are currently running or walking with the program. Another 75 people volunteer each morning to join them.

If you’d like more information how you can help, click here or call 317-250-4133.

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