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Running groups give a leg-up to homeless people

Perth, 10 Jun 2016

By organising running groups in Perth and Melbourne parks, community organisation On My Feet aims to encourage self-sufficiency among the long-term unemployed and people who have experienced homelessness.

The social enterprise’s aim is to build participants’ confidence and self-worth, and help provide pathways to education and employment.

“We use a hand-up not a hand-out model, and it’s all based on reward for effort,” says Keegan Crage, founder of On My Feet.

“The idea is that through running and being part of a team our participants feel a greater self-worth and purpose so they can make decisions that result in better life outcomes with their living arrangements, employment opportunities and networks.”

Crage came up with the idea while training in Perth for an ultra-marathon. He was passing homeless people during his training sessions and wondered if running could make the people he saw feel as good as he did when running.

“I had no experience with homeless people but I had a simple idea which I knew could have some impact,” says Crage. “It took a lot of hard work, knock-backs and many volunteers to make it happen but we got it off the ground in the end.”

With 150 pairs of donated running shoes and dozens of socks, shorts and running tops piling up in his garage, Crage approached a local homeless shelter to ask their clients if they would be interested in being part of a running group.

“I asked if they wanted to meet together at a local park that afternoon and go for a run. I told them I’d provide their shoes and running clothes and all they had to do was turn up and take hold of the opportunity. There was a healthy level of scepticism but around seven people turned up and On My Feet began.”

A year later, On My Feet now coordinates four running groups in Perth and Melbourne with over 100 regular participants. Each running group trains at set times each week and is coordinated by a local volunteer.

“Each of the participants wear the same gear and are part of a team. Like everyone, they want to feel as though they are an important part of the community and sport is a great equaliser in that way,” Crage says.

“We have some people who look forward to the running session for the few days leading up to it and as a result they are conscious about the decisions they make which may affect their ability to run. They want to participate so they make sensible choices.”

During the first 10 weeks of each running program, the participants build up to a 10-kilometre run. After their first milestone is reached they progress towards longer distances.

“One of our Perth participants recently did a half marathon and is now in training to complete the Melbourne Marathon in October, funded by On My Feet,” Crage says.

Macquarie Group staff in Perth became involved with On My Feet in early 2016 through a business challenge the charity initiated as a way of generating income and educating young business professionals about ‘running’ a social business.

Students from Notre Dame University and football players from Fremantle Dockers took part in the challenge, which was made up of five teams of two participants each, with two mentors supporting each team.

The challenge for each team was to sell 300 pairs of orange socks over three months.
Crage explains: “We wanted it to be a win-win for everyone involved. The idea was that the students would learn about running a social business and also help us along the way. Socks tie in nicely with what we do and as part of the experience the participants learned about various aspects of running a business, including inventory and cash management, sales, advertising, distribution and customer relations.”

Macquarie staff member Dave Elliott was a participating mentor and worked with his team on their selling strategy.

“It was interesting to hear the students talk about their strategy,” he says. “They asked for guidance about which way to progress with their business plan and they were very enthusiastic. I’ve realised through the process I’ve learnt a lot along the way in my career and I enjoyed passing it on.

“The team’s goal was to ensure ongoing orders for On My Feet as a regular source of income for the enterprise long after the challenge has finished. As a result they decided to implement a two-pronged approach - ad hoc sales with friends and family members and bigger ongoing deals with larger companies.”

The On My Feet social business challenge will be held twice a year and plans to expand the social enterprise are also underway, with more running groups expected in Sydney and Brisbane this year.

Image caption: On My Feet Melbourne volunteers after a running session.

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