WASHINGTON — It’s 5:30 a.m. on a recent Wednesday in Northwest. Under a streetlight at 2nd and E streets, a group of runners convene to share hugs, a few laughs and a quick jog before the sun rises.
This isn’t just another jaunt: Since 2010, the D.C. nonprofit Back on My Feet has used running to encourage people who are homeless and battling drug addictions. The group thrives on positive communication, and before Wednesday’s run, members formed a circle and opened with the same serenity prayer recited at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
That hits close to home for Darin Burns, a Back on My Feet runner who entered an alcohol abuse program six months ago. A Northeast native, Burns said he lived a checkered life on the streets before deciding to get his life together. On Monday, Burns was hired as a room attendant at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park near the National Zoo.
“The way I was living wasn’t satisfactory to me,” Burns said. “I kept hitting my head and wanted something better. I’m trying to make right all the wrongs I did all those years.”
Back on My Feet aims to help members improve their health conditions, find work and obtain independent housing. Based in Philadelphia with programs in 11 cities, more than 1,900 members have gotten jobs and 1,318 people have found housing, according to the company.
The D.C. chapter was launched in March 2010. Of the 588 members it’s served, 172 have enrolled in education courses; 111 have found housing. Members are required to attend at least 90 percent of the morning runs — held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — in the first 30 days of the program.
Once they complete that, members can enter the “Next Steps” phase, in which they create a goal plan with Back on My Feet staff members and participate in two series of classes. The first series discusses financial literacy; the second set provides one-on-one training for job interviews, resume preparation, computer literacy and communication skills.
Eventually, Back on My Feet members become eligible for financial aid to help get rid of debt, for security deposits, job interview clothes, and school or vocational tuition.
Michael Rodney-Bey admits he wasn’t the best runner when he joined Back on My Feet.
“When I first started, I couldn’t run from here to the traffic light down there,” said Rodney-Bey, 64. “Now I’m doing what I never did before.”
Rodney-Bey is training for his third half-marathon in October. Prior to joining the group, he said, he was in and out of jail, shooting drugs and drinking alcohol. When he’s not running, Rodney-Bey works as a cook at the Clean & Sober Streets center in Northwest.
Michael McCorkle also had a problem with alcohol abuse until his daughter suggested he get some help. “She almost had tears in my eyes when she told me that,” said McCorkle, 55.
He checked into a substance abuse program 11 months ago. Before that, McCorkle said, he made poor life decisions which, in part, led to mass alcohol consumption.
“If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve stayed in school,” he said. “My head is a lot clearer now. It’s like I’m starting all over again, like a new life. But I like this new life and I’m continuing my journey.”
Back on My Feet is at 122 C St. NW, Suite 240. Call 571-408-9240 or visit the group’s website for more information.