Helping the Homeless Back on Their Feet -- and Running

On her predawn runs in Philadelphia, Anne Mahlum kept passing a group of homeless men.

"They would say, 'Hi' or they would say 'Hi Anne' or 'There's the crazy runner.' 'How many miles are you doing?'" Mahlum recalled. "And they would smile and sort of applaud and cheer for me, while I would start my day."

But one day in May, Mahlum said, "I looked back, and I was like, 'I am cheating these guys. Why am I just running past them and leaving them there?'"

"Running is so simple you know. You really only need a pair of shoes. You don't need a lot of equipment. You need heart and dedication," Mahlum said.

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Anne thought to herself, "Maybe running could make these guys feel as good as it makes me feel."

So she decided to start a running club for the homeless and started asking businesses for help.

"I sent out an e-mail to a bunch of people, and I just said, 'I'm starting Philadelphia's first homeless running club. I need your shoes. I need your clothes,'" Mahlum said. "And the support that I received back is so astonishing."

Nine homeless men signed up right away.

"The guys had so many questions. They were so curious," Mahlum said.

The men didn't know what to expect, and they asked questions about how to stretch and what to do. But they were willing to give it a shot.

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Mahlum was not intimidated by the men.

"I wasn't scared. People are people. And I feel like if you treat them the way you want to be treated, that's the best you can do."

"If anything would happen," she joked, "I figure, you know, they can't catch me anyway."

Mahlum's group has grown since then. It's not uncommon for them to hit the Philadelphia streets at 5 a.m.

Click here to learn more about "Back on My Feet."

"People started showing up in the morning," Mahlum said. "This circle that we had just kept growing and growing, and the smiles got bigger, the hugs got tighter, and we started to develop this team, this family."

Runner Michael Solomon said, "You're around a bunch of people that really show care and concern. Running -- you get that feeling, a sense of freedom."

"It takes me somewhere else," Vernon Weeks, another runner said, "A healthy body, a healthy mind."

The Back on My Feet homeless running club has jogged well over 3,000 miles and counting.

"When we're running, you can't tell. When people look at us, they don't point and go, 'Yeah, he's homeless, she's not, she's educated.'" Mahlum explained, "You look and say, 'Oh, look at the runners.' That's a positive association, because there's no separation."

But now the seasoned marathoner-turned-philanthropist has unexpected competition: "I used to be the first one that was finished, now I'm the last. They've dropped me because these guys are so quick and they're so fit, and it's just really cool to see that."

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