Running with Hope: UT Student Encourages Homeless to Run

Chelsea Knotts

Chelsea Knotts

When Chelsea Knotts began volunteering with a homeless ministry, she realized she could contribute her own talents by creating a running club for area homeless.

Knotts, of Ripley, West Virginia, is a senior Haslam Scholar majoring in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is also a Lady Vol cross-country runner.

She had worked with Redeeming Hope Ministries on a few previous projects when she decided to organize the running club.

Fellow Haslam Scholars Caitlin Conley Wise and Elizabeth Tiller also volunteer at Redeeming Hope and brought up the idea for the scholars program to get involved as a community-service project.

This led to the creation of the Running with Hope 5K run and one-mile Fun Run, held Saturday, November 12, on the UT campus, beginning and ending in Circle Park.

The run was entirely organized by Haslam Scholars and all funds raised from the race benefitted Redeeming Hope Ministries.

Knotts and other Haslam Scholars encouraged the homeless runners to race for their own cause. They hope the homeless runners will learn how to set goals in all areas of their lives.

Knotts said getting the homeless club “up and running” has been more difficult than she anticipated.

“You don’t think about the things you are afforded — to throw on your shoes and run,” Knotts said. “We had to think about things like: Will they have food? Will they have clothes? What about showers? How do you choose a good meeting place?”

Area businesses have pitched in to help. Runners Market has given donations. So has Fleet Feet, which outfitted everyone with shirts, shorts, and shoes.

“When we received Chelsea’s letter requesting support for one athlete, it was an immediate light bulb moment,” said Shahin Hadian, owner of Fleet Feet. “Why just one? Why not the whole group? Here is an accomplished UT runner who is putting her time and effort in to help those in need through a program that provides self-confidence and self-worth. The mission was a perfect match [for us], and we felt that we had the right resources to support her efforts.”

Things are still shaky but slowly getting settled. There are three consistent runners, with a few others participating sporadically. Knotts is trying to find incentives for participants since some have to walk long distances just to meet.

“Chelsea’s involvement with the running club is an organic thing that came out of her own commitment to living a healthy life,” said Eddie Young, president of Redeeming Hope Ministries. “It’s a part of setting and accomplishing goals, and that’s something our homeless friends don’t have much experience in growing up; they’ve not been expected to set goals and achieve. If that has not been demonstrated to you, it’s hard to implement as part of your lifestyle.”

Young said Redeeming Hope thrives because of volunteers who believe their efforts can impact the world. “Chelsea really captures that for us—that person who really believes that this can be a better world. People like Chelsea don’t come around often.”

–Amy Blakely and Stephanie Dixon

Reprinted with permission from Tennessee Today.