Well that’s a nice perk of the job.
It wasn’t so long after I started my job as national media director at homeless running nonprofit Back on My Feet that I was presented with what would be a rewarding opportunity. Not so long at all after I first started talking about how traditional marketing was just a small part of what I thought mission-orientated nonprofits should be chasing for audience building.
Not a month into the job I heard that HCI — the publishing house that hit a home run(s) with the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series that reigned commercially successful, if critically panned, for 15 years — was finalizing Ultimate Runner, the latest edition of its newest anthology series, and had an opening.
I was working for a running-involved organization with compelling stories and came from a writing background. I also had been blabbing about how we needed to involve ourselves heavily in content creation. This sounded like something to chase.
After clearing the legal hurdles of rights, I had our programming staff connect me with one of Back on My Feet’s many successful alumni, spoke to him for a couple hours and poured over a profile, integrated with our organization’s founding story, over a weekend.
For privacy reasons, we decided to change the name of the member I profiled. As a nod to an old friend who has long encouraged my writing, I dubbed the member ‘Matthew.’
I submitted the piece and, a couple weeks later, had an accepted 1,500-word feature in an anthologized book released by a major publisher.
Matthew used to break a lot of promises.
He’d lie to girlfriends about why he needed money and why he didn’t pay them back. He’d tell someone he would do something or be somewhere without much intention of ever following through. He’d disappear, stay out for a few nights, and return home with some bogus excuse. He used drugs and sold drugs. He smoked and drank.
Matthew also used to be a runner. In high school and college, he was a sprinter. He was fast.
At some point he stopped running for two decades. Long enough to walk a path few return from, but Matthew did, running all the way back.
In 2007, Anne Mahlum would take long, solitary runs in the early morning twilight of Center City Philadelphia. Every day, she’d run a particular route that would bring her past a group of residents outside a mission. Soon they began to wave to each other and exchange hellos; later they’d share small greetings and the relationship grew.
After one run, she had a moment of clarity…
It’s only an anthology, but I’m proud anyway. I can only hope that someday my work will end up with others in a bargain bin inside a neighborhood book store.