print logo

Back on their feet

 Spare Change News (USA) 03 June 2019

(Originally published: 08/2009) Veterans Up and Running, a non-profit organization founded by former financial analyst Shannon Varney, is working to help homeless Veterans rebuild their confidence and re-establish themselves through exercise, education, and teamwork. The organization is the part of a vision held by Varney to empower homeless veterans through exercise. Together and individually, the vets strive toward goals, working out and training for races. Adam Sennot reports on the new organization aiming to engage homeless veterans in Massacheusets.  - By Adam Sennott

CAMBRIDGE, USA - Veterans Up and Running, a non-profit organization founded by former financial analyst Shannon Varney, is working to help homeless Veterans rebuild their confidence and re-establish themselves through exercise, education, and teamwork.

The organization is the part of a vision held by Varney to empower homeless veterans through exercise. Together and individually, the vets strive toward goals, working out and training for races.

"Running is a big component of it, but it's really about structure and discipline, kind of reintroducing structure and discipline in a program that encourages people to feel good about themselves," Varney explained. "The basic underlining idea is that you make people feel good abut themselves; they have a sense of accomplishment, then they are more likely to take advantage of opportunities; resources that are around them that can help improve their lives."

Though Varney is not a veteran himself, he came up with the idea for Veterans Up and Running shortly after being laid off from his job as a financial analyst for investment banking and securities firm, Goldman Sachs. Though Varney was out of work he found ways to motivate himself and avoid feeling down by running, specifically training for the Boston Marathon.

"I guess how it got started was I got laid off from Goldman Sachs, got laid off from working in financial services for three years late last year, and just kind of had a tough time just kind of dealing with being unemployed," Varney said. "And I tell people my saving grace, aside from the support of my and fiancé and my family, was training for the Boston Marathon."

Varney continued. "The Boston Marathon training gave me the structure and the focus back into my life, and you know the more I started to think about it the more I thought, wow this could be a pretty powerful program for a population that is somehow down on their luck, you know."  

Varney then decided to proactively reach out veterans to join his organization, a search which would lead to the New England Center for Homeless Veterans (NECHV), and the eventual birth of Veterans Up and Running. Varney chose the NECHV as a target for his intervention because of the large number of veterans staying at the shelter.

"We have talked to a couple of other homeless veterans but [NECHV] just made the most sense for our first operation, kind of right out of the gates because it had the most amount of people to choose from," Varney said.

Varney added "You know, when you do a program like this, you know a lot of guys for what ever reason, they are not interested in doing it right away because they might be out of shape, or they might be just having a tough time where getting back into shape's not a high priority. The yield is kind of low there, so you need big numbers, and hopefully out of a hundred you get a couple."

According to Varney the reaction he got at the shelter was positive, as he got more than the "couple" of veterans he expected to sign up.

"After meeting one of the directors, I was invited to present in front of every resident at the Center's townhall meeting in early May," Varney said. "It was an excellent opportunity to reach out to all 250 residents and let them know more about our program. After the meeting we had over 10 people sign up for our first run that was held the following week."

Although many veterans at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans have taken to Veterans Up and Running, the shelter's management did not share that same enthusiasm. According to a June 29th article by David Abel of the Boston Globe, the NECHV recently sent a letter to Varney, demanding that he "immediately cease and desist" all efforts to recruit members on shelter property.

"I had gotten a call from the CFO, and the CFO just said that they kind wanted to rethink the relationship with our organization, and it was a little ambiguous as to what the reasons were," said Varney. "But I think that one of the things that the Globe article kind of fleshes out is that it was primarily driven by fundraising, and that if you're not a part of the Center was that we could potentially eroding their donor base."

Varney elaborated on his relationship with the Center.  "I was in there for about two months…. And when I say in there, you know we had no, I mean we still don't have any affiliation with the Center," Varney said. "Basically we would show there up there in the morning, 8:30, we do our run for half an hour, our workout for a half hour, forty five minutes or so and then the guys would come back. So we weren't in there, we weren't doing any kind of programming within the halls or anything like that."

Though Veterans Up and Running is no longer allowed to recruit members at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, Varney is hopeful that may someday change. Though calls were made to the NECHV, CEO Larry Fitzmaurice could not be reached for comment in time for press deadline.

"Its unfortunate, and we kind of hopeful that they will turn around, and that they will reconsider," said Varney. "But in the meantime we are continuing to go out there [running and exercising] Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, to work hard. Hopefully people continue to keep joining the program." 

Though the Veterans Up and Running was not able to continue recruiting members at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, Varney believes his organization can appeal to other shelters across Massachusetts.

"Well the idea is to expand the program to other homeless veteran shelters across Massachusetts, and really beyond," Varney said. "Actually as a result of the [Boston Globe] article we have had one organization express interest in us doing a program." The organization in question is the Veterans' Northeast Outreach Center located in Haverhill, MA. Varney mentioned that he might seek help from a team of volunteers to conduct the prospective program at the Haverhill shelter.   

While any homeless veteran interested in being a part of Veterans Up and Running is welcome to join, individuals must maintain a high level of participation in order to continue membership.

Varney explained how membership works. "Our program breaks down into two different stages. In the first stage, we require runners to attend workouts three days a week for a period of at least three weeks. With attendance in excess of 85%, our runners are then given free entry into a competitive race event of their choice (5K, 10K, etc). After completing the race event, they are eligible for "Stage II" which provides access to our enrichment fund in which the Veterans can apply for grants to pursue educational and job training opportunities." 

According to Varney the enrichment fund has generated about $5,000 so far. However, the eventual goal is to accrue enough money to help support veterans earn educational certificates.

"The enrichment fund is really what they can use to go back to school to get a professional certificate in anything from like highway management to construction, to whatever," Varney said. "Whatever they want to do we can build a program where we can…you know they apply for this foundation that we're carving within the organization and they can use those funds to go back and help them get jobs. Whether it's vocational training, whatever it is, that's the idea."

While Veterans Up and Running has already had a positive effect on many homeless veterans locally, Varney has not forgotten about the many soldiers currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He plans to extend invitations into the program to these servicemen and women when they return home.

"The idea is to potentially offer this program to returning veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom as well," Varney said. 

Veterans Up and Running is a program that works toward empowerment in several domains. It propones healthy habits for physical fitness, facilitates the identification and achievement of personal goals, and creates an atmosphere of communal support. Overall, Veterans Up and Running is about helping people to get themselves back on their feet.

recently added

test