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Andy Allen: Running down every challenge

Wed, Nov 13, 2013

photoAndy Allen currently vends StreetWise magazine at Chicago and Franklin. He came to StreetWise through a referral from another Chicago program called Back on My Feet, an organization that uses running to help those experiencing homelessness positively alter the way they see themselves so they can make real change in their lives that results in employment and independent living.

The challenges that Andy has experienced range from addiction, homelessness and gang affiliation. He said, “All of these things are related, because of my being ignorant or not understanding some of the basic things in life… not having a basic understanding of drugs or how they affect me.” He feels as if he never had the education he needed to understand how his life choices might affect his future. He was “ignorant to the consequences of what drugs and all of that does to you.” Andy had to overcome these things through experiencing them and he now wants to help people get education on how drugs, alcohol and gang affiliations affect their future.

Andy is passionately involved with the StreetWise Weekly Writing Workshop and would like to continue to grow his compositional abilities and take more writing classes to improve even more. He is very focused on learning the skills necessary to be a mentor for kids and adults who are personally battling addiction and gang affiliation, as he once did. “One of my goals is to reach back and help the community through education, because in the community I come from, people lack knowledge about a lot of different things. So one of my goals is to reach back and offer some knowledge to the community.” He wants to be there for those who are struggling, because he never had someone to do that for him.

When I asked Andy what it was that made him change his habits, he said that he realized that if he kept doing the same thing and making the same decisions, he would repeatedly keep getting the same result. He realized he needed to do something different in order to get better results and thus, improve his life. That is why Andy turned to running, one of his favorite things to do. He credits the sport as a deep reason for his reform. Andy has been sober for four consecutive years and has run two marathons in celebration of his sobriety. He also has a unique hobby of putting different pictures together to create collages into art and enjoys training and spending time with dogs.

Andy said the best piece of advice he has ever received came from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If a man hasn’t found something to die for, he isn’t fit to live.” He then continued to say that he is who he is today because of the choices he made yesterday. To be in a better place tomorrow, he has to continue to make better choices with each passing day.

The moment that truly awakened Andy to the harsh reality of his life was when he found himself sleeping outside in 20-degree weather. For him, this moment allowed him to clearly visualize the path before him and acknowledge that he needed to make better choices. Andy is an inspiration to all and continues to try and make a difference not only in his own life, but also in the life of each and every person he meets. He would also like to thank Marcie Bearman, director of the StreetWise Writing Workshop, for helping him improve his compositional and writing skills and for always being so kind and patient with him.

By Kayla Kiely
StreetWise Contributor

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