Written by Amy Andrews
Like so many organizations, the past year has looked dramatically different for local nonprofit RunningWorks. This Charlotte-based organization has a keen focus on stopping the destructive cycle of homelessness through its values-led, mentorship-driven programming.
RunningWorks was established in 2012 and promotes volunteerism as a key component of rehabilitation as it promotes dignity and purpose for team members who are struggling through hard times. The goal is to foster self-improvement over the long term through the development of discipline, confidence, team-work and self-respect.
“Our main population is those who are experiencing homelessness, who are at risk of becoming homeless or are in poverty,” shared Matt Sharp, RunningWorks Chief Operating Officer. “Our clients, who we refer to as team members, have certainly been impacted by COVID as they were already food insecure, lacking basic resources and facing difficult times even before this pandemic hit,” he added.
Sharp goes on to say, “Fortunately, many of our team members have secured shelter or some form of housing. Having that box checked allows us to focus on addressing other needs.” These needs include helping the men, women and children they serve with food security, access to transportation and providing resources to those experiencing job loss or reduced hours during this time.
To that end, RunningWorks has been providing monthly care packages to active team members. These packages include necessities like food, cleaning supplies, hygiene products, monthly bus passes and other items. “The bus passes are a significant cost, but we feel that, especially during COVID, it is critical that our team members have access to transportation to get to medical appointments, jobs and food pantries,” Sharp emphasized.
RunningWorks also continues to provide rental subsidies for team members in the RunningWorks housing program. For those still in transition, RunningWorks opens its facilities on an appointment-only basis to team members who need to use the laundry room or computer lab. Sharp added, “We are taking necessary COVID precautions, such as temperature checks, wearing face masks and social distancing to make that as safe as possible for our team members.”
RunningWorks holds twice weekly programs, which include walks/runs followed by life skills classes. Since the COVID crisis, they have shifted their in-person programs to a virtual platform, holding their life skills classes live on their “RW Team” Facebook page.
According to Sharp, attendance of the virtual life skills sessions has been surprisingly strong, which speaks to the strength of the relationships and group environment that RunningWorks fosters. “Even though we can’t meet in person and haven’t been able to walk or run as a group, team members are still able to share, give us updates and remain connected. It is certainly one of the bright spots of this period of time,” Sharp exclaimed.
RunningWorks receives much of its funding for programs and services from private donors and in-person events. The organization serves as the charitable beneficiary of dozens of races throughout the area including Strip it To Give It, Around the Crown and several other notable races. This past year, all of that changed due to the pandemic. Over 30 races were cancelled, and RunningWorks was forced to transform its annual fundraising gala from an in-person event to a virtual format.
“We are so grateful for all the support we’ve received this past year,” says Sharp. “However, having to cancel and alter events has presented financial challenges as we enter the new year. This is a critical time for us when our team members need us most, and we are doing everything we can to help them maintain housing, food security and access to resources.”Readers who would like to support RunningWorks can do so by fulfilling needs for monthly care packages on their Amazon wish list or by making monetary donations to support their housing program and outreach initiatives for the city’s homeless community.