One Step Closer

A number of Glisan Center residents have a newfound relationship with fitness after participating in a six-week running program that volunteers brought to Transition Projects last month. March 17th was the last official group run, but this is just the beginning of a positive lifestyle change for the running group's members.

Two years ago, Jennifer "Mac" McDonald read about a program called Back on my Feet, a half-marathon training running program for people experiencing homelessness, and decided to see if it was possible to bring a chapter of this program here to Portland. She shared the idea with friends and fellow runners, and they decided to try a pilot program with a local agency and report their successes to the Back On My Feet expansion team. To help make this possible, Foot Traffic University offered to donate reflective gear and sixteen pairs of running shoes toward this endeavor.

The group initiated a partnership with the Glisan Center shelter to demonstrate that Portland would be a good fit for a Back On My Feet chapter, that there was sufficient community support, and that running would positively influence the lives of program participants. Happily, the pilot program - which the group decided to call One Step Closer - has exceeded their expectations.

"I was hoping that they'd see people cared and that running would lead them to a healthier lifestyle and maybe a new direction in life," says George Watson, one of the running group leaders. "What strikes me is how on their own, some of the guys have cut down on smoking..., are doing their own runs during the week without us, how on our second to last run we still had three new people ask if they could join us,"

"It's been killer!" says program participant Kenneth. "It gets me breathing good in the morning. I'm a little bit out of shape, but I'm up for any challenge, and I wanted to get in better shape. It was something new to do, since I quit drinking, something to take up time, and make me healthier."

One of the biggest motivators, for many of the shelter residents who got involved in One Step Closer, seems to be the spirit of community involved.

One Step Closer team"They're great people, really fun," says Brian, one of the program participants. "It's nice getting up and hanging out with friends - it definitely has a positive influence, starts my day off well. It gets people up and out of bed, instead of just laying there wondering what to do with the day."

Derek, another program participant agrees. "I've always been athletic, I ran a lot in the army, and was involved in sports in high school and college," he says. "It's something I'm good at that I like doing - especially when you run with others, it gives you the motivation to get up and do it, rather than trying to do it alone. It makes your endorphins kick in, makes you wake up and have a better day."

The team spirit extended to the running leaders as well. "After this experience, I really feel a shared sense of accomplishment and mutual goals allow me to relax, smile, and remember that we are all in this together as a community," says Nic Granum, another of the leaders. "Every morning, people inside and outside [Transition Projects] were friendly, said hello, and were genuinely interested in this running group. What a good feeling, something shared!"

One of the other big motivators for shelter residents has been the appeal of a healthier lifestyle. For many, running has provided an outlet apart from drinking or addiction; for others, a great way to cut back on smoking; for some, like Jean, it has already been a great way to meet weight loss goals.

"I've always wanted to lose some weight," he says, and gestures to his (diminished) stomach. "It doesn't get much better than this! I started at about 330, now I'm down to 280, with running, exercise, looking at what I'm eating. I'm exercising a little more on the side - it's been great. I ran a lot in the military - they run you to death! But since I've had some drawbacks. I'm glad I restarted - now I know I can still put in my 100%."

Many of the One Step Closer participants have started running and exercising on their own, in addition to the weekly group runs. The team leaders also procured another donation to help in this endeavor - ten free spots in this past weekend's Shamrock Run 5K, which many shelter participants took part in.

While the shelter residents are taking away a lot of positive benefits from this running group, the leaders are taking away just as many amazing experiences.

"Last week, one of the participants met us outside the shelter at 6:00am. He wanted to tell us that he could not make the run because he had to go to work," says running leader Rona Amadon. "My initial reaction was "oh, that's a bummer!" but then I quickly realized that he had gotten a job and I needed to congratulate him --- it was very exciting!"

"For all of us, it's important to be involved in positive community," adds McDonald. "It's been remarkable to see the participants light up in the morning, engage in interesting conversations with the running leaders and each other, and begin to make healthy life changes."

Thanks to the hard work of these volunteers, and the success of this program so far, they are now in conversation with the Back On My Feet expansion team, and all are looking forward to continuing to further the work they started with One Step Closer.

"There is so much work to do around ending homelessness and creating opportunities for self-sufficiency in Portland," says McDonald. "Sharing the sport of running is an exhilarating and effective way to be involved in the solution."


Resource Access Center Construction Update

Construction on the Resource Access Center is moving right along, and we are still on schedule for a grand opening in spring 2011. 

This past month, the team has been planning artwork to be incorporated into the Resource Access Center courtyard, excavating for rain and graywater systems, and pouring the walls of the first floor. You can watch the progress yourself at the site of our future home, on the corner of NW Broadway and Hoyt.