(CBS) — Before 6 a.m., three times a week, they run together for miles.
If you saw them, you would not guess the lives some have led. They are part of a group called Back on My Feet. As CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez reports, they are Positively Chicago.
Some are doctors, some are accountants, and some are homeless. But on the streets of Chicago in the early-morning hours, they are all simply runners.
“I thought I was joining a running club and it ended up being a family that I gained,” says George Galanos.
Galanos was a crack addict, an ex-con and eventually homeless until he joined Back on My Feet, a running club fighting homelessness by showing people like him a new path.
“Being a runner allows you to redefine yourself and just be a runner and part of a team. You can shed those negative labels and just go forward,” says Back on My Feet Executive Director Terri Rivera.
About 60 homeless participants — many of whom have never run before — are hitting the streets with partners who help them set goals.
“They run a block a couple of blocks, their first mile, their first 5K. It spills over to the rest of their lives. So, it’s awesome. They start wondering, ‘What else can I do?’” Rivera says.
That’s exactly what happened with Galanos.
It starts with getting up at 5. Dedication. Slowly, you get your dignity back,” he says.
Struggling with addiction for years, Galanos also lacked some basic life skills.
“I was computer illiterate,” he says. “I didn’t know how to download email and send it. They taught me that.”
They helped with a resume, and even footed the bill for the kitchen knives and uniform Galanos needed to get his job as a line cook at Chicago’s Eataly.
Galanos is truly learning the recipe for success — and savoring his new independence.
“Guys like George, they’re a huge inspiration for me,” says Bob Trask, who is one of more than 100 volunteers who offer support and encouragement.
“Like everything in our lives, it’s taking that next step, looking for that next sunrise and believing the best is yet to come,” he says.
For George, running started him on the path to a new life: “I was existing, but now I am living. It feels so great. I can’t even explain.”
Galanos has lost 15 pounds, improved his health and even run a half-marathon. His bad habits have been replaced with exercise, comradery and optimism.
About 600 homeless people have been through the Back on My Feet program. Fifty percent have gone on to get jobs and housing.