[INTERVIEW] Anne Mahlum, Founder Of Back On My Feet Talks About MTV Special,‘The Break’

Photo: (Courtesy of Rachelle Damminger)

To people experiencing homelessness, “getting back on their feet” might mean finding a good job, signing a new lease, saving enough money for a deposit. Or, as young athlete and advocate Anne Mahlum explains, it might be quite literal: lacing up, standing up and hitting the road running. Her organization, Back on My Feet, helps participants find physical, mental and emotional strength by running — an equalizing activity that favors speed and style, not socioeconomics.

In “The Break,” a documentary (from U2’s The Edge) premiering tonight at 8/7C on MTV, Anne introduces us to three young people facing the real life challenges of homelessness. Over 1.5 million young people face these same obstacles on any given day. Shocking? Yes. But with Ava, Nancy and Rob bravely offering their faces and stories for viewers, “The Break” shows us that attention, support and step-by-step action can chip away at the problem and help struggling youth build new lives for themselves. Watch a trailer of “The Break” below:

MTV Act also interviewed Anne Mahlum and here’s what she had to say about the problem — and the solution.

How has running helped you personally in the past? And how do you think it’s benefiting the people participating in Back on my Feet?

Running helped me to deal with my dad’s gambling addiction. I quickly found that running could teach me about life and about myself. There are many beautiful life metaphors that come from running — taking things one step at a time, the character that comes from being on difficult roads, and the simple notion that you can’t get anywhere if you don’t put one foot in front of the other.

Similarly, Back on My Feet uses running to help those experiencing homelessness. Through running, we help to create change from the inside, so that change is possible on the outside.

What’s a common misconception of homeless youth that you have to clear up a lot?

Homelessness has a branding problem — when you say the word “homeless,” people get images in their heads and they think of words like “lazy.” This is not the homeless population, and the people I’ve met and have had the pleasure to work with are grateful, strong, determined and just looking for well, a break!

What are things that young people can do to help the homeless?

There is one very easy thing everyone can do – stop referring to these individuals as “homeless people.” They are individuals experiencing homelessness. This situation does not define them and language is very important. Additionally, don’t treat individuals experiencing homelessness differently. We all want attention, to be noticed and to feel important. If you want to go beyond that, there are organizations in almost every city working to combat homelessness. If you want to go beyond that, there are organizations in almost every city working to combat homelessness — and if you are interested in getting involved with Back on My Feet, volunteers can run with us, assist with events or cheer us on at a race. [See below for ways to support Back On Your Feet!]

How are you hoping that viewers will respond to “The Break?”

You can’t solve homelessness with a TV show. But you can help to educate people on the issue of homelessness and encourage people to see the difference that a conversation, an opportunity or just plain kindness and hard work can make.

Are you still in contact with Ava, Nancy, and Rob? If so, how are they and what are they up too?

Yes, I stay in touch through Facebook and text messaging mostly. “The Break” helped give Ava, Nancy and Rob the opportunity they needed, but they all know it’s up to them to take advantage of the opportunity. I’m happy for all of them!

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