Barry Burnett is clean-cut, gainfully employed, and has a single-family house—hardly the image of someone who was once homeless, a convict, and an alcoholic.
Out of jail and feeling desperate in December 2008, Burnett entered the Helping Up Mission (HUM), a substance-abuse and residential-treatment facility on East Baltimore Street, seeking a fresh start.
Four months after entering HUM, Burnett joined Back On My Feet, a nonprofit that works with the homeless to build independence and self-esteem through running founded in Philadelphia in 2007 by Anne Mahlum. This month, the Baltimore chapter celebrates its third anniversary.
“I started running again because I knew what it did for me,” says Burnett, 51, a lifelong runner. “The residual effects pull you through when you’re ready to quit.”
Baltimore began with only two teams and now has five, each at area shelters. Volunteers run with members four mornings a week. Some members are training for 5k races, 10-milers, or even marathons.
“Running has been a very integral part of my recovery,” Burnett says. “It helps me to relieve stress and feel good about myself.”
Jackie Truncellito, BoMF’s Baltimore director of communications and corporate relations, says that since 2009 nearly 350 men have joined BoMF, but only about 40 actively participate because of recidivism.
Truncellito says that some members start off skeptical about the program, often wondering how running can help with recovery. But, she says, members are often motivated after their first “circle”—that is when teams wrap their arms around each other and form a circle before each run.
“That breaks down some of the hesitation, creating a consistent presence, maintaining a structure, and building an encouraging environment,” Truncellito says.
Rob Carfagno, HUM’s team leader, said the chapter’s anniversary is “a testament to the structure of the organization.”
“It’s so much more than running—it’s about touching the lives of others,” Carfagno says. “Being part of Back On My Feet is one of the only things they look forward to on some of their more difficult days.”