Run to reduce homelessness
29 July 2019 at 8:24 am
Keegan Crage is the founder of On My Feet, an organisation that helps people who are homeless get back on track through running. He’s this week’s Changemaker.
Giving a homeless person a pair of shoes and asking them to go run a marathon with you might not be the first way you think of to help them turn their life around.
But Crage, an avid runner, believes that by providing exercise groups and structured programs, he can help to create a sense of purpose, and forge a path to self-sufficiency.
Over the past five years Crage has worked with hundreds of people in Perth, Melbourne and Cape Town in South Africa, who have then gone on to participate in marathons, find employment and give back to the community.
On My Feet runs a six-month course to transition participants experiencing homelessness “from shelter to self-sufficiency”, through weekly educational workshops and training sessions.
The organisation also runs walking and exercise groups in collaboration with homeless shelters and support centres to give residents and visitors a social and physical outlet.
In this week’s Changemaker, Crage talks about how the idea of On My Feet came about, how he’s been able to use his corporate experience in the world of NFPs, and why he loves his job.
What inspired you to start On My Feet?
The inspiration for On My Feet came one morning in late 2014 while training for an ultra-marathon. Passing several homeless people on my run I thought, “If I can feel this good when I run, why can’t they?” The simple answer was that they could, all they needed was a pair of shoes.
From there I visited a homeless shelter to invite people to come for a jog with me, providing those interested with the necessary footwear and exercise gear in return for a commitment to participate with a positive attitude and respect for others.
Working on the ethos of “a hand up rather than a hand out”, I rewarded those participants who demonstrated commitment, resilience, perseverance, a positive attitude and respect for others by registering them in running events, providing positive reinforcement through recognition for goals achieved, creating volunteer leadership opportunities, engaging them in work experience and then transitioning them to paid employment.
How has your experience in the corporate world informed how you operate On My Feet?
My background as a chartered accountant and now as a CEO of a business has heavily influenced the way On My Feet was created and has grown. At the same time, the needs of a start-up are very different to that of a diversified 25-year-old multinational organisation.
On My Feet has had to be nimble, constantly seeking feedback from volunteers and participants, then refining our processes to best meet the needs of those we serve. This was important to our survival and growth and it was this mindset of continuous improvement that led to the creation of the Footsteps Program in early 2019.
We also made the conscious decision to operate as 100 per cent volunteer led for as long as possible so that every dollar we raised could go directly to helping those we serve. In doing so we needed to make sure we invested time in creating opportunities for every volunteer to grow and learn, both personally and professionally, from their involvement (in the same way that I do for employees at the organisations I run). This has led to improved employment and career opportunities for many volunteers which has been really rewarding to be a part of.
What are some of the most frustrating things you’ve come up against running a charity?
Running a charity, like a business, throws up constant challenges. I try to see these challenges as an opportunity – whether it be to refine our processes, enhance our volunteer engagement, improve our customer experience or better connect with our supporters and partners – to maximise the impact we have and the value we create.
As an organisation we have a focus on continuous improvement as well as growth and development for everyone involved in the On My Feet community meaning that participants and volunteers alike are encouraged to tackle frustrations with a growth and improvement mindset.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The heart-warming stories from individuals who reconnect with family and friends, become mentally and physically fit, achieve self-sufficiency through gainful employment, rebuild their lives and are able to give back to their community.
What sort of advice would you give to someone wanting to start a career in the sector?
Contribution to community is an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience. I would encourage anyone considering a career in the sector to reflect on the words of Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.”
Whilst the commitment of time and energy has been significant, I can say without hesitation it has given me far more than I have given it. The sense of satisfaction that comes from making a meaningful difference to someone’s life is tremendous, something that all of On My Feet’s incredible volunteers can attest to.
What do you like to do in your downtime?
I have an incredible wife and three gorgeous children whom I love to spend time with. I do enjoy travelling and there is always another road or trail running event to train for with my mates!