Villanova Students Partner with Back on My Feet, Take on Social Issues of Homelessness

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An April 3 campus visit by Anne Mahlum, founder and CEO of Back on My Feet (BoMF), for Villanova University’s 2013 Oscar Romero Solidarity Lecture shines a light on the important social issues of homelessness. Mahlum’s commitment to solidarity, justice and human dignity led her to founding the organization Back on My Feet, a national nonprofit dedicated to creating independence and self-sufficiency within the homeless and other underserved populations by first engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem.

Two years ago, Villanova students Frank Dougherty ‘13 and Caitlin Powers ’13 founded a campus chapter of the Back on My Feet organization. Since that time the Villanova Chapter, run out of the University’s Center for Peace and Justice Education, has been active in organizing weekly runs/walks at BoMF sites in Philadelphia, hosting campus-wide Sneaker Week initiatives for BoMF, and participating in community building through a variety of activities with BoMF members who are or were experiencing homelessness.

"Anne Mahlum’s distinguished activist efforts with Back on My Feet not only model an effective holistic and communal approach to the social problem of homelessness, but serve as an exceptional reminder to our students about the ways in which justice and equality, fueled by passion and vision, can be practiced concretely,” said Jennifer Joyce Kissko, PhD, an assistant professor in Villanova’s centers for Peace and Justice Education and Liberal Education. “Anne's commitment with BoMF has changed the lives of many of our Villanova students and honors the human dignity for all those involved."

Every Friday at 5 a.m., for the past two and a half years, Villanova students have made – and continue to make – the short drive to Philadelphia to run with BoMF teams at New Jerusalem, Our Brother’s Place, and House of Passage.

"One of the most important things that I have learned at Villanova has not resided in making a huge change in the world; rather the importance lies in making a huge change within individuals," notes Dougherty. "Through the founding of the Back on My Feet chapter at Villanova, I have discovered that bringing awareness about homelessness to Villanova students has a profound impact on understanding others. Changing attitudes so that a unity exists between people from different social classes and backgrounds is one of the core values of Back on My Feet."   

Founding co-Presidents Dougherty and Powers are succeeded by Dan Nieman ’14 and Brendan Shea ’14, who will help carry the Villanova BoMF chapter into the future.