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Once-homeless racers take to the course

There are probably as many reasons to run in Bloomsday as there are participants, but a group of homeless and formerly homeless Bloomies are doing it for self-respect.

“I did it for me,” said Keshia Taverez, who first participated in Bloomsday last year when she was living at St. Margaret’s Shelter for women and children. “It made me feel good afterward.”

This year Taverez and her 21-month-old daughter Carmen will be among a group of about 30 current and former St. Margaret’s residents and their children taking part in the event.

In all, more than 40 Catholic Charities clients will be doing Bloomsday this year, including six women from Bernadette Place, a community-living residence for the developmentally delayed, and seven current and former residents of the House of Charity shelter for homeless men.

For many of them, a 12-kilometer race is a trifle compared with their struggle to overcome destitution as a result of domestic violence, substance abuse or mental illness.

Training a House of Charity team for the event was the idea of Kevin McIntyre, a Jesuit volunteer at the shelter.

“I had come to a point after three months at House of Charity where I felt it was time to take the initiative and do something different,” said McIntyre, 23, of Ashby, Mass.

So in March he started training the men in a program he calls “Run to Overcome,” to stimulate both mental and physical well-being for a group who could use a little of both.

Exercise and personal training typically are among the first casualties of whatever trauma caused these men to become homeless, McIntyre said.

“I’m able to share my passion (for physical activity) with a population that is marginalized,” he said.

St. Margaret’s began its “Passport to Wellness” program several years ago to encourage physical activity, nutritious cooking and a healthy lifestyle among its residents.

To begin the 10-week program, the shelter gives participants pedometers to find out how far they already walk each day, said resource coordinator Jody Nelson.

A 7  1/2-mile run seems daunting, Nelson said, but many of them were already walking 5 to 7 miles a day anyway. St. Margaret’s residents have commitments that include child care, employment training, job searches and perhaps outpatient drug or mental health counseling.

“There is a stereotype that the homeless have so much time on their hands,” she said. “But they have tight schedules and no vehicles.”

St. Margaret’s resident Joni Martin said she walks everywhere, so Bloomsday training came naturally. The 30-year-old mom said she is excited about pushing her 14-month-old daughter Whiteny in a stroller during today’s event. She and the other shelter residents will be wearing team T-shirts.

“I’m doing it to support St. Margaret’s,” she said, and to show other homeless women like her “that there is a place to go.”

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