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‘There is hope’: Fitness club at B.C. shelters helps residents move forward

Click to play video: 'Volunteer-run exercise program changing lives one step at a time'
Volunteer-run exercise program changing lives one step at a time
The Running on Faith program in Surrey aids those living in shelters and recovery centers with the natural high of walking. Janet Brown explains – Mar 15, 2024

A volunteer-led program in Surrey, B.C., is giving people in need access to the transformative power of exercise.

The Running on Faith project works with shelters and recovery centres, inviting residents to participate in a supportive and low-stress running and walking group.

The project’s founder said her mission is a simple one — to help people use exercise to improve their physical and mental health and make positive social connections.

“The whole purpose behind the walks and the runs is just getting us all together,” Andie van der Eerden told Global News.

“Moving and spending time with each other, connecting with each other so we don’t feel so isolated and alone.”

Van der Eerden suffered from depression and anxiety until she started to run with a friend several years ago.

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“There was a profound change in my mental health when I started running regularly,” she said.

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Anthony Ranger, who participates in the program, said it helps him get outside and meet people.

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“I get out now, I get out more, I get to talk to more people, I am more social now than I was before,” he said.

Another participant, Gorret Kabahweza, said the program helps her get out of bed when she struggles.

“No matter whatever you’re going through there is hope each day you get out of your bed, each day you come out of a shelter, (and) get to share with people,” she said.

Abraham McMillan who lives at the Surrey Urban Mission’s Olive Branch shelter in Whalley said the walking group has given him a new lease on life.

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“A different way of spending my energy, I guess, and meeting new people and opening up new doors.”

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CEO of the Surrey Urban Mission Jack O’Halloran told Global News he’s witnessed first-hand the transforming power of the walking club.

“Everybody gets a little bit excited there is a purpose to the day,” he said.

“That allows them to get beyond the gates, that allows them to get out there and say there is more to this.”

Van der Eerden is collecting donations to provide the walkers and runners with proper footwear.

“They’re going back into the shelter feeling happier, feeling better, stronger, everyone is communicating better — it’s just a ripple effect of positivity, really,” she said.

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