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"I felt — and feel — that we could be doing a lot more to help people struggling in our society. Back on My Feet puts that directly into action."

— Kathleen, Back on My Feet Indianapolis, Volunteer

Empathy in Action: Kathleen’s Drive to Bridge Gaps in Addiction Solutions

It was Kathleen’s professional life in a scientific laboratory that accelerated her personal volunteer life on the streets — a journey from forensic chemist to a dedicated Back on My Feet volunteer that is a testament to the transformative power of compassion and community.

Kathleen’s life performing drug and alcohol testing for the state of Indiana showed her what she says is a yawning gap between the people looking for scientific solutions to problems such as addiction, and those administering those solutions on the ground. Determined to help bridge that gap, Kathleen turned to volunteering with Back on My Feet in the summer of 2021. “Working in forensics puts me around a lot of people whose personal rhetoric lacked compassion for individuals struggling with drugs and alcohol,” Kathleen says. “I felt — and feel — that we could be doing a lot more to help people struggling in our society. Back on My Feet puts that directly into action. It’s taking an issue head-on and returning power to individuals who are capable of helping themselves if they get a little compassion along the way.”

Pandemic Rebound

As nationwide Covid-19 shutdowns eased, Kathleen sought a renewed sense of community, and found it in Back on My Feet’s pair of Indianapolis-area member groups. For her, being part of a team became a motivating force, especially during challenging times when her own sense of wellbeing was tested. “I needed a reason to get back to the habit of running most days after the pandemic,” she says. “After some tough mental health struggles of my own, the easiest mornings to get out of bed were the ones I knew I got to be with my team.”

“My team.” Kathleen emphasizes the reciprocal nature of the relationships fostered by Back on My Feet. Volunteers often learn valuable life lessons right alongside those they aim to assist. The key, according to Kathleen, lies in approaching the experience with an open mind, free from preconceived notions about transformation on either side. “The community is absolutely worth the early time if you want to do morning circle-ups,” she says. “If you’d rather be a workshop leader or career coach, believe that you do have something to offer. The members are super fun and thankful to have people to build their community with.”

Cherished Member Moments

Since 2007, Back on My Feet has engaged more than 150,000 volunteers and supporters — and it seems every one of them has cherished member moments. For Kathleen, those moments are often tied to the progress she witnesses among Indianapolis beneficiaries, particularly in their running achievements. Whether it’s a first race or the pride members take in completing regular events, these milestones showcase the determination and resilience that form a lasting foundation for their lives. “My favorite member moments have all centered around guys getting to race,” she says. “In the fall I got to go through a course with two members on their first 5k, and in the spring, seeing the pride members felt in themselves after finishing another race was amazing. A few have even ‘caught the bug’ and are talking about working towards longer distances.”

A Different Level of Understanding

For the past 16 years, the heart of Back on My Feet has been found in the personal connections formed, transcending differences in life experiences. It’s how Back on My Feet has managed to touch the lives of over 15,000 members, and only continues to extend its impact. And as part of that, Kathleen’s experience is a testament to the incredible transformations that empathy, dedication, and running can bring to individuals facing homelessness and addiction.

Kathleen says she values more than anything the opportunity to understand people with vastly different backgrounds, and to forge close bonds with members and fellow volunteers. And through that, hers has been a journey that not only contributed to the Back on My Feet community but also helped her rediscover her passion for running. “One of my favorite things about the group is the opportunity to get to know people who have lived very different lives from me,” Kathleen says. “I have made close connections with members and other volunteers, and been able to regain some of the running I lost during the last few years. It’s been amazing.”

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