By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
When Mishka Vertin moved from New York to Minneapolis in 2014, she sprang into action. Trained as a social worker, she accepted a job with Mill City Running while looking for a job in her field. She and her partner, Michael Jurasits, settled in the North Loop of downtown Minneapolis.
Vertin said: “We loved exploring the city and developing a new community of runners. The only thing was that we were surrounded by people who looked like us and were like us. We have always believed that there was a danger in this homogeneous way of life.
“Living in downtown Minneapolis, we regularly pass homeless shelters. We started to think that there might be a real benefit to having people run; people who might not think of running in a positive way. We thought maybe we could grow our own community to include more diverse people through running.
From thought to reality
Mile in My Shoes launched its first running team in May 2014. The team included six shelter hosts living at Catholic Charities Higher Ground in Minneapolis (resident members), two Higher Ground employees and eight volunteer runners (running mentors) . In November 2014, Mile in My Shoes (MiMS) became a 501 (c) (3) registered non-profit organization and established its board of directors.
There are currently seven active MiMS teams: including two via Volunteers of America, Team Salvation Army ARC for men recovering from addiction, Team Challenge for women recovering from addiction and the brand new team, Team Center, based in a reintegration center in Fargo, North Dakota.
A look at the numbers
Since the founding of MiMS, people experiencing homelessness, coming out of prison or recovering from drug addiction have put on their running shoes and walked their first mile. Over 400 new runners completed a 5k race, and dozens completed half and full marathons. One hundred percent of resident members said they saw themselves more positively than before starting running, and 85% felt more connected to their community. MiMS has had over 300 race mentors, 80% of whom have raced with a resident member in at least one race.
Vertin said: “We are running together to change perceptions in all directions and to build community between people from different backgrounds. The ratio is roughly 1: 1. The Run Mentor goes anything at any pace and however far the Resident Member is able to cover. Sometimes the resident member is faster than the resident mentor; I love when this happens. It’s important to say that the running mentor is just a running mentor. Both partners have so much to give and to gain.
“We have alumni teams who have left shelters and reintegration facilities and they are still running with us. We accept new resident members when they want to start. This season nearly 200 new resident members started running with us.
“Resident members and race mentors are excited to try something new, to challenge themselves and to expand their social circles. “
How it works
Within a partner establishment, residents can register for a MiMS orientation. If they are ready to commit to running 2-3 times a week with the team, resident members are outfitted with new running shoes, shorts, jerseys and socks. Many donated supplies come from Mill City Running and their running partners like Asics and New Balance, two companies who are keen to give back to the community. Race directors often donate their leftover racing jerseys to MiMS and let resident members run their races at reduced rates or for free.
Once equipped, resident members are paired with running mentors and they commit to a common running goal.
Relationships are the backbone
Vertin explained, “While the weekly races may seem simple, their impact is multi-layered. Everything we do at MiMS – races, races, social events or roundtables on topics like back-to-school challenges – all help build relationships and change our perceptions of each other in positive ways. . ”
Over the years, running MiMS has become Vertin’s full-time job. She said: “We never intended for it to get so big, but it did because the need was there. In addition to running, our teams like to socialize together. The teams met at the Minneapolis Bouldering Project and worked on the climbing walls; they have organized barbecues, bowling, played pickleball and even tried aerial yoga. It’s amazing how changing the activity can change the dynamic.
“We have a member of our team from South Minneapolis whose story illustrates this. About six months after racing with MiMS, he mentioned that he enjoyed bowling. The team hosted a bowling night and he won a game of over 200 points. It turned out that he had been a bowling champion in his home country, Vietnam, and none of us knew it. We always came to run with him, a sport he knew nothing about when he started.
“We want resident members to have a chance to shine and develop their leadership potential as well. “
Connect with MiMS
The official club season ends on Thanksgiving, but will resume next spring. There will always be monthly pop-ups that everyone is welcome to join. Visit the website for more information at www.mileinmyshoes.mn or check out their Facebook page for more information.
Vertin said: “We welcome new connections for our social events and weekly runs. Do you own a gym? Are you a personal trainer? Anything related to improving health and well-being would be fine. Much of our funding comes from people called ‘Fund Racers’, who spread the story of MiMS through their training and racing. It’s one way to get involved if you can’t commit to running regularly with a team.
“Our running mentors tell us all the time that MiMS has added a whole new dimension to their running, and that’s sometimes what prompts them to advocate or act on behalf of people who are homeless or emerging from incarceration. Intentional but equal, that’s what we’re looking for.