“My parents got divorced when I was 9-years-old. When that happened, both my parents turned to coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol; it really tore my family apart. Until I ran away to college, I lived in a situation that was less than ideal; I saw things like drug abuse on a regular basis as a child. When I got to Florida State University, I didn’t have anywhere to live and ended up homeless since the grants that covered my tuition did not include room and board. Luckily, I had childhood friends who were running track at FSU. They agreed to help me but only if I went running with them. I hated that idea but I couldn’t go home and my grades were really struggling, so I took them up on their offer. We did a lot of running in the morning and we did a lot of studying at night at their house. Thanks to their help, the next semester I had straight A’s, as well as a get away from the stress of my life.
That experience really stuck with me; I still use some of the lessons I learned running with those women to this day. When I came across the job description for the Executive Director of Back on My Feet, I knew it was the perfect fit. I should be doing this because I know these people and I have lived the road they are on.
I was drawn to the ethos of Back on My Feet. We have a lot of goal setting for members, not just in running but also in making sure they are committed to their own personal growth and the community that we have built at Back on My Feet. The mission is compelling and results in new lives for people who would otherwise be looked over in our society.
Back on My Feet created a strategic plan which set exciting and ambitious goals like doubling the amount of services we provide and increasing the amount of funding we receive to implement that growth. We serve about 100 new members per year in Atlanta and for us to double that, we are going to have to do a yearly minimum increase of 5% in the services we are providing. My vision for our Atlanta chapter is to increase the services we provide, as well as the consistency and quality of our collaborations with corporations and shelters. I am looking forward to learning how we can better connect with both the homeless population we serve and the corporations based here.
The individuals we serve live in shelters. Many shelters help folks for a little while but may not necessarily see them back on their feet. Shelters will give them a place to live with meals and a bed but they are temporary. Back on My Feet’s mission is to help bridge that gap, to help homeless individuals go from a shelter to sustainable housing, to help them get the education that they need to get the right type of job to sustain themselves.
Since I have started this job I have quickly realized that there are levels of homelessness despite people’s preconceived notions. We are accustomed to envisioning homeless individuals as people living under a bridge. But you can pass by someone on the street and not even realize they are homeless. Many people cannot afford a place to live but have a support network of friends and family members; these people hop from couch to couch but are still homeless. It is unfortunate that stereotypes about homeless individuals persist but that is why Back on My Feet exists, to let members know that they are part of a community that will uplift you, no matter how many times you need to come back for support.”
This story was told by Tanya Watkins during an interview with Gather Good. Tanya is the executive director of Back on My Feet Atlanta, a nonprofit helping homeless individuals navigate a new life path through running. You can also find out more about BOMF Atlanta’s mission here.
Back on My Feet is a national nonprofit operating in 12 cities coast-to-coast.