A new running club in Dallas-Fort Worth has a bold mission -- to end homelessness.
"Running is the foundation, and Back on My Feet provides that foundation," said Drew Myers, a board member at Presbyterian Night Shelter in Fort Worth. "It's about building on that foundation through life skills, education, job training, whatever they need to get their life back in order."
The program is centered at The Bridge in Dallas and at the Presbyterian Night Shelter in Fort Worth. Members are supplied running shoes and clothes donated by volunteers or athletic stores such as Run On.
"Funding is the next step. It will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build the infrastructure, not just at Presbyterian Night Shelter or The Bridge, but every homeless shelter in Dallas-Fort Worth. That's what we'll do," Myers said.
Back on My Feet launched in Philadelphia in 2007. There are now chapters in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Boston and in Chicago by the fall.
Myers lobbied the organization to expand to North Texas. And the group announced last month, Dallas-Fort Worth is first on a list of five cities that the organization will expand to in 2011.
"When they made the announcement to come to Dallas-Fort Worth, it was pretty awesome," recalled Myers.
As Myers built a case for a local Back on My Feet chapter, PNS volunteer Brad Dodson had started a grassroots running program there, thinking perhaps running could help the men he saw deal with stress and get in shape.
"It's more about the men and giving them a social outlet and improving their health than preparing for a race," Dodson said. "I always say we run at the speed of fun."
"I've done a lot in the year I've been out. I have a vehicle. I have savings and a good job, around good people," he said.
Gray knows the value in staying fit is more than physical. He hopes twice weekly runs organized through Back on My Feet expands to three.
"Running changes a person's mindset, as far as how they feel about themselves, the self-esteem of an individual," he explained.
"Running is an equalizer," Myers said. "Whether you're homeless or have a six-figure job, when we put on running shoes and clothes, we're just all runners. It builds confidence in people."
That confidence is seen in 36-year-old Tracy Castle. The Army veteran found herself homeless when her marriage ended. She moved into the Presbyterian Night Shelter in June and quickly joined the running group.
She said running brought "more confidence in myself. I know I can do more than I used to, and I can get back to doing the good things I like to do for myself."
Bill Hyer's story is similar to the others: a vet, a felon and homeless. He moved into the Patriot House in February. He now has a job, starts welding school in the fall, and exercise is once again part of his routine.
"Running has helped tremendously. Considering I'm 51, I'm able to get back in shape like when I was 35," bragged Hyer.
A two-mile run is a long way from a life off the streets, but Back On My Feet hopes it has these runners on pace to finish strong.
"I feel like I can accomplish anything from the endorphins," said Hyer.
"When you're running, you're mind is clear," explained Gray. "You can think better and when you're running with a group, you're part of something."
Back On My Feet requires members to maintain a 90-percent attendance rating in order to gain access to job training, employment and housing opportunities.