As part of an informal partnership with Resources for Human Development, this story, which originally ran in the February edition of the Philadelphia street newspaper One Step Away, is re-purposed here with their permission and was written by Ridge Avenue team member Claudell “Fifty” Edwards.
Today is a special day because I get to see an old friend who has come a long way since the first time I saw her.
Her name is Anne Mahlum and she is the founder and president of the nonprofit called Back on My Feet. She remains humble despite major successes in her mission to help others.
There was a time when people thought Anne was crazy for turning down a great job to follow her dreams. Well, I am so glad she didn’t take that job because there may never have been a program like BOMF.
You would think that a young, petite lady would be afraid of running alone through the wild streets of North Philadelphia in the dark of early morning. When asked, “Were you scared?” she shows her great sense of humor.
Anne says she never felt in danger. Because of her speed, she said, she was always confident that nobody could catch her. While running, she used to always run by a group of guys who would say, “Hey, there goes that running girl!” She would see these guys and they would yell out to her, “Be careful out here!” and warn her about the area.
The day she stopped and began a relationship with those guys would change all of their lives and many others, mine included.
In Woman’s Day, on CNN
I must admit that I was a little nervous to do this interview with Anne even though we are good friends.
She was recently recognized in an edition of Woman’s Day Magazine. The article, “Women Who are Changing the World,” profiles women who have taken proactive measures to influence the world around them. Among those listed are Angelina Jolie, Ann Curry and Bette Midler.
Anne was also nominated last year as one of CNN’s top 10 heroes of the year. She had a wonderful speech that moved all who tuned in. The part of her speech that moved me the most was when she said, “You can change the world with decent humanity, kindness and encouragement and giving people a second chance.”
It struck a special chord with me because when I came into the shelter system it seemed that everybody had turned their back on me.
People do forget how to treat others that have fallen and tend to treat them like their life is over or even worse, like a sick relative that nobody wants to be bothered with. I know this is not true; I mean look at me.
If it was truly over do you think I would be capable of writing an article for a newspaper? Thanks to Anne and our non-residential members, I haven’t given up on myself, and I feed off her and other positive people to stay strong and move forward.
I arrived at the Back on My Feet office and greeted all with the traditional hug we do every time we see each other. Anne comes out of her office and greets me with a hug and we take our seats for an interview. I can already see it in her eyes that she is proud of how far I have come. She can see the growth and maturity in me as we both smile about meeting for a question-and-answer session.
She lets me know that she knew within the first couple of weeks of the program that running would be a way for people to change their lives.
“Running is a powerful activity and is one of the first steps toward moving many lives forward,” she says. “Running does not discriminate. It helps empower you and helps you recognize your full potential.”
Anne has already run marathons in five different continents and plans to run in all seven continents by the age of 30. She plans on tackling Australia and then Antarctica this year.
She goes on to tell me about BOMF expanding to every major city.
“The company is doing research and learning from the early chapters in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., to grow and get better,” says Anne, a native of North Dakota. “We intend to be a national organization so we will continue to grow and hopefully become global.”
When I ask her about how she feels to see the people she helps overcome obstacles, Anne says, “It never gets old.” She loves to see people come into their own and realize the value of friendship and the value of hard work with a little determination and dedication.
Back on My Feet has programs at eight different shelters so far [in Philadelphia]. It has partnerships with many organizations that help with getting members back in school to get their GED as well as help with jobs and housing programs.
BOMF has a board of directors that helps in decision-making. This way, they have many different people sharing ideas and voting on issues within the company.
One of Anne’s goals that I would love to see is a BOMF building for transitional housing where members can go for a year. She wishes for everyone to experience independent living as well as maintain a stable household. Each member has to go through a budget class to help with money management with the purpose of staying self-sufficient.
My interview is over but I feel our friendship has just gotten stronger, so we seal it with a big hug. I thank Anne for taking time out of her busy schedule to help me once again.
I wish her the best in all her travels as she takes on the world, one mile at a time.