Resident Members are the backbone of Mile in My Shoes.
Our Resident Members are people experiencing homelessness who have committed to waking up before the sunrise three days a week to run towards something better. They run to get healthy, they run towards a new life for themselves. Through running they transform their lives, and the lives of everyone around them.
Meet Jennifer B., Resident Member
of Team VOA Roseville
Jennifer (pictured at right above) was one of the first VOA Reentry Center residents in Roseville to sign up for Mile in My Shoes, and several of her fellow members credit her encouragement as the reason they joined the team. The team's Resident Manager, Mike J, says of Jennifer: "She’s our only resident to have been at every run, and comes out that door every morning with a smile. She’s come up with thoughtful questions of the day on the spot, encouraged several of her fellow residents to join MiMS, and fights for advocacy within the community. We have 15 residents, but dunno what we’d do without Jen." Find out more about Jennifer by reading our interview with her!
How did you get to VOA?
Where do I even start... from childhood?! LOL! To make a long story short: 17+ years of trauma, drug abuse, and a major alcohol problem is what led me to work release at the VOA. As a result of trauma endured at an early age, I never knew or was taught a healthy way to deal with my emotions and trauma.
The only way I knew how to cope with everything I buried deep inside was to drink and use [drugs]. After a ten-year relationship fell apart I started drinking very heavily - since I was a bartender this was an easy thing to do. I didn't know how to be alone after [the breakup] and I got into an extremely unhealthy rebound relationship that was so mentally, verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive I couldn't find a way out.
I know what you are thinking...why would you stay? Well, when your self-esteem is so low and you don't have a relationship with God you truly think and feel that this is as good as it will ever be... When you're cheated on, lied to, and treated like you are nothing you really start to believe it, especially if you don't know that God loves you or understand what that love really even is.
I don't really want to get into the details of "my crime" that led me to prison... I still have a lot of shame around it that I am working through, but I will tell you that the 32 months I spent in Shakopee prison were a blessing in disguise. This was the hardest time of my life and prison is a dark, depressing place, but I am now 3 1/2 years sober and stronger than I have been. The trials in prison are hard to even speak about, but it was in prison that I fell upon sacred ground and I was changed from the inside out. I still am healing everyday and it takes work, but I'd rather work to heal than work to barely breathe, immersed and drowning in the never-ending cycle of insanity with alcohol.
So here I am with six months of work release at the VOA … and re-starting my life at 33 years old. The challenges of finding housing with a felony is a battle I never thought I'd have to encounter and my heart breaks every time I have to explain my felony to anyone I want to rent from … because it is then that the words I hate to hear haunt me and slap me in the face: "No."
So I keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust in God to bring the right things to me as long as I keep putting in the foot work. The VOA staff is a great support for us and I am grateful for them all, they never make you feel like you are less than and the fact that the staff was willing to let Mile In My Shoes start a running program with us says how much they care about our re-entry and success. Thank you, VOA and MIMS, for your ability to come alongside us and be our mentors, support, friends, and leaders. Your compassion and honesty is refreshing.
Last, but never least I want to thank my family for standing by my side through everything, my incarceration and turning my life around has brought us together closer than we have ever been. Most importantly my son Jordyn, he is my angel and he is the reason I run, I changed, and I keep pushing forward no matter what trials I face. I love you Son!! Also my best friends Carly, Lacey and Dawn Rassett - we got through our prison time together and without them I would have never made it.
Why did you decide to join Mile in My Shoes?
I decided to join MIMS because I am on a new journey in life of conquering my fears and facing challenges. I never thought I was a runner or that I could run long distance. I want to prove to myself that my mind is my only barrier to my success and that if I feel the urge in my spirit that I will fight through the mental roadblocks and do what I thought couldn't be done. If I had not been forced to endure 3 years of incarceration I would have never known how strong I really am... Every time I run with MIMS these are the things I think about.
What has been the best part about being part of the team?
I love the camaraderie of being in a team. I used to play sports growing up and I love being around like-minded people. The fact that these complete strangers want to run with me, even when I might be the slowest on the team, is so heartwarming I just can't get enough... They are funny, uplifting, and it is so awesome for all of us "residents" to be able to laugh and smile knowing that we have all come out of the same darkness of incarceration. There is a light that is around the group that I can't explain and when we are all warming up together I can feel the positive energy and it is infectious.
What has been the most challenging part?
Ha, the running! But I feel so so good when I push through and make it.
What is one goal you have set for yourself?
A small one is to run 4 miles without stopping, and to get a 25-26 min 5k. I have done a 28-minute 5k and I really want to beat that.
What has been your favorite moment with Mile in My Shoes thus far?
Thus far my favorite moment was our first 5K together (the Second Chances 5K) and when we all warmed up together before the race in a big circle and there were so many of us in blue shirts and we were the only team out there warming up together. Not only did it look cool, it felt great to be part of something bigger than myself.
What is your favorite thing about yourself?
My heart and my smile.
If you were a cartoon character, who would you be and why?
Well, I think I would pick Wonder Woman. She is so strong, courageous, believes there is good in the world, and kicks some major ass!
What would you like people to know about you?
That I am more than a pretty face...I have a great mind, personality and spirit, but so many people judge me on the way that I look and never take the time to get to know me and that hurts.
What would you like people to know about Team VOA Roseville?
That we never give up!!
What's next for you?
I just landed a job as a Crane Operator Apprentice with the Local 49er International Union of Operating Engineers (another thing I never thought I was good enough to do), and I will be working with Ames Construction on the 35W/Lake ST project. God is good and I plan on trying to make this world a better place, everyday, in every way, one foot in front of the other.
Meet Team Higher Ground St. Paul's Warren!
Warren was one of the first members of MiMS’ newest team, Higher Ground St. Paul, and has been a central presence ever since. A natural comic who is up for almost anything, Warren went from struggling through his first mile a few months ago to preparing for his first 10K on September 30th - which he will run in a sparkly tutu. While the showmanship may come easily, the distance running has not. But Warren’s dedication to completing this goal - participating in not just two but three runs per week - has proven an inspiration for his teammates, most of whom come from Higher Ground’s overnight emergency shelter. Read on for more of Warren’s story, as told by MiMS volunteer David Stewart:
Warren is Minnesota-born, having grown up just west of the Cities in the beautiful Chaska / Waconia area. There aren’t so many families anymore the size of the one Warren came from: he was the third of seven kids! He attended Lutheran schools as a child, though that’s not a faith tradition he identifies with now.
Before moving to Higher Ground in downtown Saint Paul he lived for a time with one of his three sons and grandson. When some tensions arose there, he moved to Higher Ground St Paul, where he has mostly lived for the past few years.
The way he describes himself is as “good with his hands,” which helps explain why he has enjoyed the problem-solving side of working for drain companies. It’s not simply getting the drains cleared, but sparing a customers the stress and hassle of trying to fix the problem themselves – that’s what makes it fun. Warren now volunteers in the kitchen of Higher Ground, helping fix breakfast for the other residents. It gives him a lot of fulfillment to be offering something positive where he lives.
Warren started with Team Higher Ground this past June, and was immediately impressed with how welcoming the group was. “Nobody is ever made to feel bad if for whatever reason they aren’t able to show up.” There is a shared sense of overcoming obstacles when they succeed together. And being a regular participant in a running group offers something surprising for Warren - a tangible way of giving back to the group by being a dependable member. His own dedication to showing up regularly (nearly 100% attendance!) in turn helps other people to become more reliable – the sense of not wanting to let the team down.
Getting involved with MiMS seems like a different experience for everybody, and for Warren it was partly returning to his experience running cross-country as a high school student. While Warren has some physical health issues that made him hesitant about a return to running, he has found that having the proper gear, making sure to warm up, and learning to pace himself have made running possible. He noted that for some people the initial appeal of joining MIMS is the offer of “free shoes,” which is understandable. However, once people join that becomes far less important than the benefit of getting healthy (Warren’s lost 10 pounds!) and – above all – the opportunity to be part of something positive.
Some of Warren’s favorite things about MiMS? The health benefits, the camaraderie, the inspiration of being “up and at ‘em” at 0600 - the feeling of taking charge, being prepared for activity, the excitement of being out on the street so early in the day, and of enjoying such good conversations with his teammates.
For anyone considering joining MiMS, Warren offers the following advice: “You’ll love the fellowship, and will miss it on the days you can’t come! And you can do it - I had my doubts about myself, but I’ve now run a 5K and am about to run a 10K. I’ve been so encouraged to find out what’s possible.”
Meet Jacquie, “founding member” of Team Sarah’s & Twin Cities Marathoner-in-training!
When Mile in My Shoes first visited Sarah’s … an Oasis for Women to gauge resident interest in a running team, the timing - frigid & dark mid-January - made for a bit of a hard sell. But while most of the women sighed a breath of relief upon hearing that the runs wouldn’t start until early spring, one resident begged to begin the very next morning. Ladies & Gentlemen, meet Jacquie.
One might not expect a woman raised in East Africa to so embrace a Minnesota winter, but Jacquie, it turns out, has a knack for defying expectations. The youngest of twelve children raised on a coffee plantation, Jacquie not only wasn’t athletic, she was downright sickly. Plagued by frequent nosebleeds and long bouts of Malaria, she would watch her older sister run and wish she could, too. Once, she even tried to hold onto her sister as she ran, but her nose would bleed at any exertion. While her siblings were in the field picking & digging, Jacquie was put in charge of the family store. And, she studied.
While many men in her village didn’t believe in the education of women, Jacquie’s father was different. From an early age he stressed the importance of education to Jacquie, urging her to work hard so that she could one day go to school in America. When she was reached high school age she left her village to attend school in a large city, where her health improved along with her education. She never went home again.
When she arrived in Minnesota - a popular landing spot for East African immigrants - over five years ago, she got a bit of a shock. “In my country, it is common knowledge that college in America is free,” she explained. “I had been told this, I believed this, I worked so hard to get here. Then I found out about tuition costs, I just couldn’t believe it.” While Jacquie would eventually save enough money to start college courses - she is working on a degree in Cyber Security at St. Paul College, where she’s earned scholarships thanks to her 4.0 GPA - it took many years of just trying to survive, let alone save.
Jacquie’s intro to athletics came by way of bicycle, which she took up as a means of transportation. In exchange for volunteer hours at Cycles for Change she had access to a bike. That first summer she rode over 1000 miles, many of which were around college campuses. “I refused to give up my dream of going to college,” she recalls. “I would bike by colleges and get really emotional and start crying. But I was determined to be there one day.” Jacquie took courses on bike mechanics at Cycles for Change and eventually became an American Bicyclist League Certified Instructor. “Cycling and training transformed me, I got so much confidence.” As a way to connect with & give back to her community, Jacquie would visit school, community groups, anywhere she could to teach people about cycling. “I even taught Muslim women that even with their clothing, they could still bike.”
Jacquie heard about Sarah’s a few years after arriving in Minneapolis, but she was very nervous about living in a “shelter”. “I only came to see Sarah’s because I was so desperate, it was the last straw. I was scared but I when I came to visit, it was so beautiful & peaceful. Then I walked in [to the entry hall] and saw my country’s flag and cried.” She has been a resident ever since. “I don’t know what my life would be without Sarah’s.” After years of relying on the mercy of people from her church, or struggling to pay rent, having her own bed meant the world. And being able to save some money allowed her to finally focus on school, and she began studying for the entrance tests. While Jacquie had started to run off and on since arriving in Minnesota, there were periods where money was so tight that food was scarce, and exercising was not an option. Then when school began, her schedule of classes and work (Jacquie cleans homes) left little energy for running or biking. So when Mile in My Shoes came to the monthly house meeting, Jacquie jumped at the opportunity to commit herself to running again - and wanted to start right away. She went outside the morning after the meeting to start preparing for when the MiMS team would arrive.
As soon as Jacquie heard about the possibility of running the Twin Cities Marathon, she insisted on doing it. “To run a marathon is such a big thing, even in East Africa. I could not run even one mile. Now what my sister could do, I can do in eight minutes! That’s amazing! I am so happy!” She knows that the training will not be easy. One day she realized that what she thought were miles were actually kilometers. “I’m glad I figured that out sooner than later. That first five MILE run was so much longer & harder than I thought!” But Jacquie trusts that the MiMS Run Mentors will get her there. “They come from all over to run with us in the morning. They are just awesome. They are so encouraging.”
And what does her family think of their sickly sibling now? “They used to call me a word that meant “one strength,” which is really to say, you have no strengths. Now, I am the only athlete of all of us. Now I have so many strengths.”
Meet Team Higher Ground MPLS Captain, Nick!
Resident Member Nick joined Team Higher Ground at the beginning of Cycle 1, and it soon became apparent that he was a natural - both as a runner, and as a leader. He was quickly voted Team Captain and his humble but enthusiastic personality was a great addition to the team. Despite working two jobs - one that kept him working until very late hours - Nick achieved 75% attendance and became an Alumni early in June. For this month’s profile, Nick sat down with David Stewart - a behind-the scenes volunteer who also happens to be the father of Team Higher Ground’s Team Leader, Julia.
After spending an hour recently with Nick at Caribou (the trendy one next to Target Field,) the word that will stay with me is “grateful” – how grateful he is for the positive things in his life the past few years; how grateful I am for having heard part of his story.
Nick’s about as locally-sourced as they come, having grown up and attended school in MSP’s western suburbs and studied for a couple of years at a community college here in MN; all of his extended family members live within a close radius.
Several years ago, some personal setbacks contributed to an increasing struggle with alcohol and eventually, it resulted in the loss of his driver’s license. Losing the ability to drive made securing work & affordable housing a challenge, and in early 2017 Nick ended up at Higher Ground. And now he’s grateful - for the ongoing support of his family and friends during tough times, and for having two jobs (one in drywall, one in a restaurant) that provide structure, challenge, and income. He’s especially grateful for interesting and motivated people in his life, including those he has met through MiMS.
Looking for a way to become more active, Nick welcomed the invitation to join Team Higher Ground. Right from the start, even running short distances he felt the difference in his energy and in his muscles. He likes the way the runners encourage each other to push further than they thought was possible. And it made him feel good, after a while, to be made captain of the team. One of his favorite discussion questions was “If you could live the life of any celebrity for just one day, who would you choose?” His answer: Donald Trump! (Because he thought it’d be interesting to see all the decisions that need to be made, all the meetings to attend, all the hands to shake, etc. in one day as President.)
When Nick thinks about running with Team Higher Ground, what he wants is to keep moving forward; he’s not going back to the way things were. It feels a bit like playing catch-up for years he’s lost, but he’s grateful for the different outlets that help him get stronger and enjoy life more.
I asked Nick what he would tell someone considering MiMS - “Why should one do this?” He paused thoughtfully, and responded, “It may take a little time, but running with this group will make you feel better, and it will be good for your mental health and outlook.”
Meet Yordanos, Resident Member, Team Sarah's
Ethiopian women dominate the world in middle-distance running. And all Americans hear stories of how running is so natural to East Africans that the children grow up running to school. So, can we safely assume this is how it was for Yordanos, a Resident Member of Team Sarah’s who grew up in Addis Ababa? “Oh NO!” she responds emphatically, scrunching up her nose in disgust and then bursting into giggles. “I was a chubby kid,” she reveals. “I am literally SUFFERING to try & be good at this!”
If Yordanos is indeed suffering through the morning runs, her teammates would never know it. For someone who claims to hate early mornings, Yordanos - who works at a hospital until midnight - rarely misses a 6am run & is always ready to lend a hand or a joke. What drew her to Mile in My Shoes? “I want to be healthy, but I hate the gym & the treadmill. It’s totally different having the team to support me. The mentors won’t let me stop & quit. Even when I do really bad they say I am doing great!” she says with a laugh.
The sense of community fostered through Team Sarah’s is a big draw for Yordanos, who left her extremely close-knit family at the age of 18 to come to the United States alone. In search of better education opportunities but knowing very few people, she spent several years as a resident student training in medical administration before finding Sarah’s .. an Oasis for women nearly two years ago. She has since discovered her gift for helping others and enrolled in St. Paul College, where she is studying to be a registered nurse while also working at Regions hospital. “It feels so good [to be a nurse],” she explains as a big smile breaks over her face. “You can’t magically take the pain away, but you can still make people feel better. You make a difference.” The years of hard work will soon make a difference for Yordanos, who has recently qualified for public housing & will soon take the test to become a US citizen. “Soon I will be an Ethiopian-American,” she beams proudly.
Her work ethic doesn’t always translate to her runs, Yordanos admits. “The run mentors push me - and I mean push me!” she laughs. “I will say to [Run Mentor] Isabella ‘I think I can make it to the end of the block,’ and she says, “I think you can do better than that!’ The truth is when she says I can do it, I believe it.”
So how does a self-proclaimed “non-athlete” manage to stick with the program - and always have a smile on her face? “I love the mentors. I mean, literally everyone hugs me. I wake up so tired, but then I remember who is coming and it goes away. After all, I can’t oversleep when you guys came all the way to my house!”
Meet Team Captain “King” of Team VOA
Every runner knows that running often leads to new & unexpected opportunities. For Dorrell King, that opportunity came during his very first mile with MiMS. “We got to the end of the block and here I had this choice - I could go left, or I could go right.” The kind of choice that doesn’t even register for most of us was not taken for granted by King, who has spent the better part the last 17 years in a federal penitentiary. Not new to running, King spent years literally circling the prison track for a half hour every Thursday with fellow inmates. “But we had to go the same direction, just circling, around and around,” he explains. “Now, every single run is … an adventure.”
King’s presence is commanding, both physically (Burpees every Monday! Navy Seal workout every Wednesday!) and socially. As Team Volunteers of America’s first MiMS Team Captain, he sets an energetic tone each morning and leads the team in warm-up & cool-down stretches, a routine for which his years of calisthenics prepared him well. He is also the first one ready to go each morning. “Being in an institution, for better or worse, means you are pretty much always alert, always awake,” King explained. “I hear anything, and I’m up, and I’m staying up!” But what keeps him coming back every run? “Well, I’m a big commitment person. I do what I say I’m going to do, and it’s important to be surrounded by others who are committed to stuff - positive stuff. Like all of you.”
If King is right about following through on his commitments, we can expect to see big things from him in the future. While he says that he joined Mile in My Shoes “just to stay in shape, and really just to do something,” he got a surprise during his first run with the team. “I figured I’d just come and run a bit. Then I met all of these Run Mentors who have run marathons and I thought heck, maybe I can run a marathon!”
Like training for a marathon, King knows that the process of re-entry consists of many baby steps. While his goal is to develop a re-entry program of his own one day - “one that has to include physical fitness” - he will begin with his new job in a warehouse & work his way up. “I know I have an uphill battle coming up,” he says. “But I want to help others in my position see not what they can’t do, but what they can.” Spoken like a true distance runner.
Meet Alumni Member Jeff
Jeff was one of the "founding members" of Team Emanuel Housing back in April of 2015. Since then he has completed three full marathons & has two more in the works. Jeff has not only become a runner since joining MiMS, he's become a running evangelist. Jeff gave the below speech at our annual end-of-the-year celebration, the MiMSies, in December of 2016.
I was born in the suburbs of Boston and grew up in the same town - Lynnfield, MA - my whole life until I graduated from high school. I always loved the outdoors but was not "athletic" at all and never excelled at any sports. I did run track one year; my event was the 440 but I was never any good at it. Even then I could tell that distance running was more my thing. I had a five-mile out-and-back route from home that I used to run all the time by myself, just for fun. But I never thought of running any farther than that, even though this was back when Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers and their friends were tearing up the Boston Marathon just a few miles away!
After high school I went to the University of Maine, where I got a bachelors degree in history, and then joined the US Coast Guard for four years right after college. Ironically it was the Coast Guard that eventually brought me to the landlocked prairies of Minnesota because they had a little outpost in St Paul at that time. When I got out of the service I decided to stay in the Twin Cities and so that's what I did. I worked boring jobs in Corporate America for many years before finally deciding to let somebody else do that, and I retired in 2004.
Everything went fairly well until January of 2015 when I suddenly became homeless. A ten-week journey through the social-service system in the middle of a Minnesota winter came to a successful conclusion in March of that year, when thanks to the VA, I was able to get a beautiful apartment at Emanuel Housing.
Right after I moved into Emanuel in March of 2015, I heard that they were going to start a running club of some sort. Although I had hardly run at all for decades, I thought it might be fun, and went to the introductory meeting. That was how I got involved with Mile in My Shoes.
When I first joined MiMS, we were asked to fill out a questionnaire about our goals. I wrote down that my goal was to be able to run five miles by the end of that first season, and maybe ten miles eventually. Well, I did that; and then, like Forrest Gump, I decided to just keep on going. Six months after filling out that questionnaire, I finished the Twin Cities Marathon. I then went on to finish Grandma's Marathon in June 2016 and then Twin Cities again in October 2016. As I type these words I am preparing to return to Duluth next June for my second Grandma's.
Recently Mishka asked me, why marathons? Well, because they're hard. You're doing something that most people will never do. You're probably doing something that YOU never thought you could ever do. In a 5K, you're running alongside third-graders dressed up as Spider Man. In a marathon, you don't really see a lot of that.
Although I am no longer a resident member of MiMS, the organization has made a permanent and positive change in my life. I was healthy and active before joining MiMS, but I was not a runner, and would probably never have become one without their help. Certainly I would never have become a marathoner without MiMS. The free gear and the free race entries made it possible for someone with no money to get started in a sport that is actually a lot more expensive than it looks!! But the best thing about it- the best thing about running in general - is the people you meet. This was a surprise to me. When I started, I was only expecting to get in a little better shape than I was before. I had no idea that I would meet so many wonderful people who would become such an important part of my life. That's really the best thing about it!
What advice would I give to a new member just getting started in running? Start slow, be patient, and don't give up! The hardest thing you will ever do in this sport is learning to run that first mile. Your first month is gonna be brutal. You will be doing all this new, unfamiliar stuff, and working very hard, and not seeing any evident results at all. But don't quit! You are getting better whether you realize it or not. After one of my very first group runs at Mill City, I was given a T-shirt that said "Every Mile Changes You." And you know what? It does.
People think a marathon is 26.2 miles; but it's not. A marathon is actually hundreds and hundreds of miles - and after the last 26.2, you get a medal. The road to your first marathon medal starts with the day you decide to see if you can run across the Stone Arch Bridge. Good luck!
Meet Resident Alumni & Co-Captain, Michael!
Michael “tentatively” joined Team Higher Ground at the beginning of Cycle 2 and went on to top his team in attendance. He is now an Alumni Member, and has just completed a stint as Team Captain, where he guided the team through warm-ups & began running on Saturdays.
Michael has always loved learning, and education has been a part of his journey from Starbuck, a small town in west-central Minnesota, to Oklahoma, North Carolina, and back home to Minnesota. After high school, Michael made his way to the Twin Cities, as so many kids in outstate Minnesota do. Michael enrolled at the University of Minnesota, but sometime after his first year, decided that the U wasn’t the place for him. A couple years later, Michael had a sense that he needed to get back to college, and wanted a way to move on from his current job, work that did not occupy his mind the way that learning had. Michael started back in community college and eventually completed his BA in Psychology from Macalester College. A curious person by nature, Michael had a thirst for knowledge, and continued his studies at Kent State University, earning his PhD in Psychology. While he was initially interested in clinical psychology, Michael enjoyed the science of psychology and eventually moved into experimental psychology, learning the whys and hows of the ways people work.
With his degree in hand, Dr. Michael spent more than seven years teaching around the country before eventually returning to Minneapolis to look for work closer to home. In the Twin Cities, despite the large number of public and private colleges and universities, many professors split time as adjuncts between three or four different schools just to make ends meet. Unable to find sustainable work in a saturated market, Michael eventually ended up in a shelter in 2014, and came to Higher Ground by the end of that year.
When asked how he heard about Mile in My Shoes, Michael respond, “How could I not hear about it?! People were always talking about it.” Michael was looking to do something to curb his weight gain and not having success with other kinds of exercise in the past, so he decided to give MiMS a try. He says, with a grin, that the hardest part of MiMS is. “Running. Actually the running. If it wasn’t for MiMS, I wouldn’t even think about running.” But it isn’t all bad - Michael is 61 years old and he recently reduced his personal best mile time by more than 20 seconds. A true psychologist at heart, Michael sticks with the team because he enjoys the social atmosphere and “the positive social reinforcement.”
Five months after joining MiMS, Michael still doesn’t love running, but he enjoys the people: “People are the most important thing,” he says. He was a part of the MiMS cheer squad at the Twin Cities marathon and was surprised by the energy of race day. “I never knew I could be so excited about people running!” Michael exclaimed, wearing a big grin.
Michael is currently transitioning out of his role as MiMS team captain and has enjoyed the role. He never considered himself as a leader before, but he said he has learned new things about himself along the way. And learning is something he loves - he’s been doing it his entire life.
Meet Resident Mentor & Our Newest Marathon Man, Peter!
Peter, a Team Higher Ground Resident Mentor and MiMS member for over a year, will be running the Twin Cities Marathon on October 9th. But 26.2 wasn’t always on Pete’s bucket list – in fact, he said he had never even given it a single thought, not even after he’d been running with MiMS for over a year. “It was inconceivable! Marathon running is for a different … class of people. Not for me!” So just exactly how did it come to be that Pete will be lining up for the marathon on the second Sunday in October?
Pete first heard about Mile in My Shoes soon after arriving to Higher Ground in early 2015, but it took him a few months to “warm up” to the idea of joining. “I was apprehensive at first,” he recalls. “I was intimidated – the guys who were on the team took it pretty seriously. I wasn’t sure I could hang with them.” But having heard how running could help with one’s emotional & mental well being, he decided to give it a try. His perceptions were changed almost immediately. “My first mile I ran with Mike G (Run Mentor) and he told me he too had used running to help deal with … dark feelings.” His second run, with former Run Mentor Cath, was equally positive. “We talked about real issues, and the small steps it takes to move forward. I won’t forget that.” Right away, Peter was feeling better, and found that they days he ran he felt better about himself, and things in general. Run days were the good days. And so he kept on. “The group became this therapeutic experience – the run, the hugs, the support … I left with things to chew on. I hadn’t expected that.”
Fast forward to October, and Peter has gone from zero to 10 miles in just five months. Following the TC Ten Mile race, his pacer Matt half-joked about him going for the marathon the following year: “It’s only 16 more miles!” He was exhausted and thought 16 more miles would be impossible. But then, Run Mentors began to buzz in his years. “[Run Mentor] Andy was like my Obama Yes Man – he just started to whisper ‘yes you can yes you can,’” he recalls with a laugh. “[Site Director] Mike J kept telling me I could do it, too. After awhile I guess I started to believe them.”
Pete acknowledges that completing the marathon will mean that he’s achieved something that most other people will never do – something that he never thought he’d do. But it’s the training for the marathon that has really changed the way Pete looks at life. “In other parts of my life, when things are especially tough and I feel like giving up, I remember what it feels like at mile 8 of a 16- or 18-mile training run. It may feel really tough, but if I don’t give up & quit, I always push through and finish. I’m actually looking forward to getting to that point where I want to quit, and then pushing past it. That will mean a lot to me.”
But even more than finishing, Pete is looking forward to the run itself. “There’s been this moment in all of my long races & training runs where the pain just disappears for a few moments, you break into a smile, and you almost touch some … serenity. It’s trance-like, almost mythical. There’s this realization - for even a brief moment - that all is good.”
Meet Resident Member Foxie, Team YouthLink's First Team Captain!
Foxaleece aka Foxie - has a personality as big as her name, and it was a combination of that spunk and her dedication to the team that caused her team to nominate her as the very first Team Captain of Team YouthLink, the newest addition to the MiMS family. But for the first few weeks, Foxie admits she almost didn’t stick with it.
Foxie, 20, moved into Nicollet Square - a transitional housing apartment building for youth experiencing homelessness or exiting the foster care system - in March of 2016, following several years of jumping between friends’ couches and a shelter for single adult women. Since then, she has tried to take advantage of any of the opportunities that come her way - and that included Mile in My Shoes. Self-described as “not athletic”, Foxie worried about her ability to actually run, and after the first day she had to stop so many times to walk that she considered not returning to the team and “just finding someone who loved my laziness!” But return she did, and after a couple of weeks she ran all the way to the park - over a half-mile from the start - without stopping. “I was so surprised, and proud that day,” she recalls. “I had thought y’all were lying when you said it would get easier - but it was true!”
As Team Captain, Foxie is responsible for leading the warm-up and the cool-down, keeping her team enthusiastic and on-track in general. She admits that at first she struggled to get down to the group on time, and would allow personal things to distract her. “I have a responsibility to be down on time, though, and being captain makes me feel special. I was bad at first, but now that I am more confident in the stretches & my running I’m much better.” How did she do it? “I think it’s important that the MiMS Run Mentors are flexible with us, especially when it was hard. We aren’t forced to run the whole way, they are always helping.”
Foxie is also always keeping an eye out for potential new recruits. “I’ve tried to let everyone know that it’s only an hour, it’s fun, it makes you less stressed, and then you can go back to being lazy!” While Foxie admits she is surprised by how many Nicollet Square residents have gotten involved with the team, she understands why: “The MiMS Run Mentors make it fun, not like a chore - even when the weather is bad they make it fun,” she explains. “Plus they are always happy & energetic, and it rubs off. Now I say, ‘I get to run today with the group!’”
Last week was bittersweet for Foxie & her team, as she announced that she had gotten a new job working at UPS and her schedule would no longer allow her to make the group runs. While her teammates are very excited about her new opportunity - UPS will even help Foxie pay for nursing classes, her next dream - they will miss her presence at the runs. Luckily, Foxie was able to pass on her Team Captain duties to a new young woman in whom she has confidence. “I was a newbie when I became captain, and now Jenna is new, and she will be able to do it, too.”
Now that running is coming more naturally for her, Foxie has started to run on her own when she feels stressed. “I just put my headphones in and go!” She’s also joined her fellow Resident Members in group runs on afternoons when MiMS doesn’t meet: “We come out here and we know the warm-up & cool-down now so we do it together.” On foot, and in life, this young woman is off & running.
Meet Resident Member Sir!
About a month before he heard about Mile in My Shoes, Sir decided he wanted to start running. He had read about the benefits of running and wanted to try it as a means of relieving stress and staying healthy. He had also been watching videos of parkour on YouTube and realized that he would need to have more endurance to participate in the sport that intrigued him from an early age. One of the counselors at Higher Ground recognized Sir’s new dedication and suggested he join MiMS. Sir admits that he was, at first, interested because of the promise of new shoes and possibly some running gear.
Since joining two months ago, Sir has become one of the team’s most dedicated - and speedy - members. He states that the morning runs “Give me something to look forward to.” More than anything, Sir enjoys seeing all of the other runners. He says that being a part of MiMS has made him “Feel like a human again.” Prior to joining MiMS, Sir describes himself as secluded and lonely. He now feels as though he is part of a positive community that provides great motivation, and was even chosen to serve as Team Captain.
Sir has his sights set on the Twin Cities Marathon this fall and would like to break 5:25 in the mile. He is on his way! Sir ran his first race, the Torchlight 5K, on July 20th, finishing first among his teammates - in a blistering 22:04 minutes, on a blistering hot day! He has started to join the team’s Saturday runs, and has already completed his first 10 mile run. When he’s not running, you may find Sir at Subway where he is enjoying his new position of “sandwich artist”. Next on his list? Sir hopes to secure housing within the next few months.
Meet Our Newest Resident Member, Michael!
The night Michael moved up from the emergency shelter to the pay-to-stay division at Higher Ground, MiMS was hosting a picnic to recruit new runners. Although Michael was in the process of changing habits and had been an avid runner as a young man, he admits he was nervous about the idea of committing to such a program. A self-described “lone-wolf”, Michael left home as a teenager to escape the Chicago gangs and feels as though he had to try to figure it all out on his own. However, Michael found himself being won over that evening by the members of Mile in My Shoes. He also recognized that his health needed to be a priority and that he needed to make the commitment "right then and there." He was excited to join a group of people with a strong sense of purpose, and realized that joining the program would provide him with more time to focus on his health and on building community.
Upon joining MiMS, Michael intentionally swapped his watch for the bright orange MiMS wristband that reads “Transforming lives one mile at a time”. He says it helps him remember his commitment and remain more present. Michael hopes running will be a useful tool - as it has been for him in the past - to be more focused and clear. He states that by joining the team he is reaffirming his "desire for life". His other goals for being a part of the team are to lose 25 pounds and to breathe more deeply.
How’s it going so far? Michael has not been disappointed, as he ran his first timed mile last week in 12 minutes! He recalls Dave, a fellow Higher Ground guest and MiMS Resident Mentor, telling him that starting the morning with Mile in My Shoes would carry him through the rest of the day – and “it does!” Michael enjoys the camaraderie he is developing with other runners and being a part of a larger community. He shares, "[MiMS] has allowed me to see a different profile of people that I otherwise wouldn't be able to know." He hopes that as he continues running he can “Be an advocate for people like myself." He sees MiMS as a place to continue on "the ongoing journey of self-realization" and "the fine tuning of me." Well said, Michael.
Meet Vince, the Final Team Captain for Cycle 1!
When Vince started running with Mile in My Shoes back in the spring of 2015 his fellow teammates discovered that he was quite a popular figure in the downtown area. “Hey Vince, I’m doing alright,” people would call back to him as he jogged his way down Hennepin Ave, enthusiastically greeting many people by name. This familiarity makes more sense when you learn that Vince has spent the better part of the past 20 years in downtown homeless shelters.
For more than a decade Vince, 41, slept on a mat on the floor at the former Catholic Charities shelter on Currie Avenue, along with shorter stays at other are shelters. When Higher Ground opened in 2012 he started lining up with hundreds of others each night hoping for a spot in the first floor emergency shelter. He eventually moved up to the pay-by-week shelter on the 2nd floor, where he met Dave, Manny, Brice and other tenants who were involved in Mile in My Shoes. Around that time he was spotted by Amanda, our MiMS staff liason, reading a flier about Mile in My Shoes that had been posted in an elevator. Weighing around 275 pounds at that time, Vince knew he needed a way to lose weight, and so he agreed to try it out.
By the time Vince attended the orientation for Cycle 1 this past March he’d already become a recognizable figure in the Downtown Minneapolis running community. While he’d had to take a break from attending MiMS runs last fall & winter due to a commitment at his church, Vince had taken what he’d learned about exercise & nutrition and, well, run with it. “MiMS gave me two important things – running shoes, and the [Cedar Lake]Trail. I can see the trail out my window, but I’d never been on it. I started to set my running shoes in the window so that when I wake up each day I see the shoes, I see the trail, and I have no excuse not to run.” Nearly every day this past fall & winter Vince could be spotted on the trail in his blue MiMS shirt & his bright orange shoes.
While Vince started to become recognizable to fellow runners on the trail, his current MiMS teammates can barely recognize the Vince in team photos from just a year ago. Then 275 pounds, Vince recently dropped under 200 pounds, and is closing in on his personal goal weight of 189 pounds. The changes in Vince are not only physical, however. Last year, Vince moved from the Higher Ground shelter up to the 7th floor, where he now has his own apartment – his first in over two decades. Recently, Vince has become the primary caregiver to his young son, Dacey, and he is currently waiting for approval on an application for an apartment outside of Higher Ground, where he will be able to keep his son with him overnight. Finally, Vince completed his very first race – a 10K trail race! – with his MiMS team and has his sights set on the Twin Cities Marathon in October. With so many transformations in the past year, we are grateful he’s kept his signature sideburns!
Meet Jeff, our Newest Team Captain!
For Jeff, aged 58, helping others is important above all else. So when he heard he had been chosen to be the new team captain a few weeks ago he was a bit shocked – and a little nervous – but he was up for the challenge. “I want my attitude to bring inspiration to others – you have to have a good attitude.”
Jeff, who has been living at Higher Ground for a year, first found out about Mile in My Shoes just as last season was coming to an end. So, he approached Amanda, the MiMS-Higher Ground staff liason, about his interest and then he waited patiently for nearly four months to begin. At the first info session for the 2016 season, there was Jeff. And he has been out there at 6am nearly every morning run since. Why does he do it? “I’m a helping person,” Jeff explains. “Here at the shelter, you don’t get many opportunities to take care of or care about other people. Other people matter, and this team gives me the chance to care about others.”
True to form, Jeff returned to Minnesota after living in several different states in order to be near his daughters & help out with his grandchildren – he has eight! “They motivate me to get healthy, so that I can be around to spend time with them & care for them” he explains. He spends much of his days helping his daughter – who is currently in a shelter herself – get to appointments and errands.
Jeff believes that getting back on his own two feet fully will only help others get back on theirs. After eight years in and out of shelters, he is looking forward to getting his own apartment and working again. While Jeff spent many years working in construction, building houses with his father, he also has years of custodial experience and plans to return to that line of work. However, a job directly helping others go through some of the things he’s gone through is also on his mind. “I have thought about going to school to be a counselor. I want to encourage people, not discourage them. Part of caring about someone is listening to them.”
Any member of the team can attest that Jeff leads by example, with a quiet & calm demeanor and a listening ear. But it took hard work to get there: “It took years of practice to mellow out & calm down. I’ve been at my lowest point, and I don’t plan to go back.” How does MiMS fit into the plan? “I hadn’t run in over a decade! I actually surprised myself that I could go as far as I did. Now my next goal is to run 5 miles. I just feel a lot better about myself on the days I do MiMS.”
“MiMS is a team of people who care about each other. That is so powerful.”
Meet one of the new Residential Members - and our Team Captain - Cardius.
Cardius (“like cardio”!) came to Minneapolis nearly two years ago from Chicago in order to be closer to his father, who is incarcerated. When he got to the Twin Cities he was living with an uncle and working in room service at the Westin Hotel. Within a few months of his arrival, however, Cardius tore a muscle in his knee while running for the bus, and lost his job. Shortly thereafter, Cardius’s uncle got married and moved in with his wife. This is how Carius came to be at Higher Ground.
For over a year Cardius watched Mile in My Shoes with curiosity but didn’t consider joining because of his knee. Then one day a few weeks ago, fellow member Peter saw him doing push-ups in the bathroom and approached him about joining. “Peter really challenged me to push myself,” he says. “He even promised to wake me up every day since I’m not a morning person.” Cardius also suffers from depression, so the team appealed to him because he believes “sweating it out will help.”
His initial nervousness about joining the team has dissolved over the past few weeks. “This team is a real blessing, though I didn’t see it that way at first. I didn’t have any gear, so it was a real surprise to find out I would be given the gear I needed.” But even more than the gear, it is the connection with his teammates that has been the biggest surprise to Cardius. “This is way better than I expected. I am already forming bonds with people … with friends.”
Cardius was recently chosen as the new Team Captain, which he believes will come naturally after eight years in the service industry. “But being the captain brings a new kind of responsibility, and will help motivate me to get up and get downstairs early.” In order to get a decent night’s sleep in a roomful of men, Cardius tries to go to bed very early before the bedtime noise begins. Still, he admits, his fellow teammates have graciously helped him wake in the morning – “It’s my weakness!”
He also sees his experience with the team spilling over to his personal goals. His background is in serving people (and he continues to do temp work in this field), he loves to travel & he speaks some Japanese and so would like to pursue a career as a flight attendant. “I get so much from this group already and I know I need to pass that along to others.”
He may be new to the MiMS family, but Cardius speaks for many of us when he states “This is a group of all different people … and that’s why I love it.”
Meet Brice, a Residential Member since 2014.
Brice began running with Mile in My Shoes in late 2014. Recruited by founding members Manny and Cu, Brice had seen the posters on the wall, but acknowledges that he liked to sleep. Brice decided to go to one session, felt that his first day went pretty well and has been at it ever since. A strong desire to get back into shape inspires him to keep getting up early, as does his love of the team. Brice is most excited for meeting new people and running races. Brice says his weakness is ginger ale, and his strengths are his extroversion and his strong commitment to Mile in My Shoes. Brice is studying Criminal Justice at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Last October, Brice completed his longest race to date- the Twin Cities 10-miler. This season he’s got his sights set on the TC Marathon.