Running Toward Success

The Pro Humanitate habits of this alumna shine in her role at Back on My Feet.

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Corey Washburn Tanner cheered on the Wake Forest sports teams as a cheerleader in her undergraduate years. She’s still passionate about supporting the Demon Deacons, but she’s also enthusiastic about helping people who are experiencing homelessness build a better future.

Tanner (’16, MA ’17) is development and marketing manager for Back on My Feet, a nonprofit based in Philadelphia that uses running as the catalyst for its program to transform lives and combat homelessness and addiction in 16 cities. She was immediately attracted to the organization’s mission: “To empower individuals to achieve economic independence through fitness and community.”

The goal isn’t so much as providing housing per se, as providing the resources and support to get individuals back on their feet and on the road to self-sufficiency to secure sustainable employment that will lead to stable housing.

“We focus on the whole person,” Tanner says. “I thought it was the most revolutionary and inspiring program that I had ever seen to approach the homelessness problem, and I just fell in love with it. We’re a small nonprofit making a really, really big impact.”

Back on My Feet members and volunteers in Baltimore

What makes the program unique is its focus on running as the first step for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Running is also at the core of fundraising efforts. Tanner and her team oversee the “FundRacing” program, which offers runners guaranteed entry into some of the most popular races in the world if they raise a certain amount of money for Back on My Feet.

Tanner joined Back on My Feet in 2021 and works remotely from her home in Greenwood, South Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Hal “Hil” Tanner IV (’16), and their one-year-old son, Henry. Hil Tanner is entering his Family Medicine residency at Self Regional Healthcare.

Back on My Feet matches her interest in physical fitness with her commitment to Pro Humanitate, Tanner says. Or, as she writes on her LinkedIn page, “Utilizing my experience to do good.”

Corey and Hil Tanner and their son, Henry

While Tanner isn’t a serious runner, she played soccer, ran track and was a cheerleader in high school in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. She grew up among Wake Foresters and is a third-generation “Double Deac” with two Wake Forest degrees, following her father, Dr. Harrill “Rusty” Washburn Jr. (’87, MD ’94), and grandfather, Dr. Harrill “Gene” Washburn Sr. (’54, MD ’58). Her extended family has 20 Wake Forest degrees among them.

She received the Jane Elliot Bridgers Cheerleading Endowment and the Tia Dodson Memorial Athletic/Academic Excellence Scholarship at Wake Forest. She dove into campus life. She was captain of the cheerleading team, chair of the Traditions Council and a member of Chi Omega sorority. She volunteered with the athletics department and Deacon Club; at the food bank at Maple Springs United Methodist Church; with H.O.P.E. of Winston-Salem, which provides healthy food to families struggling with food insecurity; and with the 1834 Campaign, which encourages seniors to start a tradition of giving to Wake Forest.

“I think I’ve always had this desire to give back,” she says. “I know that sounds so cliché, but I think most of us, certainly Demon Deacons, have this desire to give back. The spirit of Pro Humanitate fine-tuned that for me.”

Corey Washburn Tanner ('16, MA '17)

Tanner graduated with an English major and minors in communication and entrepreneurship and earned a master’s degree in communication. She worked in marketing for an Italian furniture company in High Point, North Carolina, before returning to Wake Forest as director of fan experience in the athletics department. She was also interim spirit team director for a short time.

The athletics department recognized her dedication to Pro Humanitate by establishing the Corey Washburn Tanner Spirit Award in 2020-21. The award is presented annually to a member of the cheer and dance team who embodies Pro Humanitate and a commitment to the cheerleading program and the University, says Christy Creson, director of spirit programs and events and head cheer and dance team coach.

Tanner has brought that same spirit to Back on My Feet. Since it was founded in 2007, Back on My Feet has offered what it describes as a “revolutionary approach” to homelessness and addiction by providing “practical training and employment for achieving independence; an environment that promotes accountability; and a community that offers compassion and hope … to achieve what once seemed impossible through the seemingly simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.”

Back on My Feet has chapters in Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and a dozen other cities. The program has helped more than 17,000 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and/or addiction work toward self-sufficiency, employment and sustainable housing. More than 7,500 have found jobs.

Participants, or “members” as they’re called, must commit to running — or jogging or walking — one to three mornings a week to build a sense of community and accountability. Members have logged nearly a million miles running. Volunteers run with them to offer encouragement.

Those morning runs open the door to job-skills training, financial literacy classes, education opportunities and housing resources. Corporate partners help members find jobs. Once members find a job, they’re considered alumni of the program, but they continue to receive ongoing support to ensure their continued success.

Tanner works with individual and corporate donors and on the “FundRacing” program, which raises about $1.3 million annually. Runners, known as “FundRacers,” agree to raise a set amount for a spot — without having to qualify — in marathons and races in Boston, Chicago, New York, Athens, Berlin, London, Paris and other cities.

Many marathons and races set aside “charity bibs” for nonprofits. For example, Back on My Feet has 100 charity bibs for the New York City Marathon; a FundRacer must raise — or donate — $3,000 to secure one of the charity bibs. For the Boston Marathon, it’s $12,000 for one of the 15 bibs available through Back on My Feet.

Courtney Totten, senior director of race revenue and events for Back on My Feet, says Tanner’s warmth and encouragement have helped increase the number of participants and the amount raised for the organization.

“She makes (FundRacers) feel energized to participate,” Totten says. “They all have (fundraising) goals, but under Corey’s guidance many don’t stop at that threshold. Because of her stewardship abilities and the way she shares the Back on My Feet mission, they’re buying in even deeper and more times than not knocking their fundraising goals out of the park.”

Tanner says one of the most gratifying parts of her work is seeing the bonds that form between members and volunteers who run alongside them on their early morning runs.

“If someone is struggling or about to give up, the community aspect, the human connection through running three times a week, keeps them moving along,” she says. “We have a large percentage of members who stay on to volunteer and run in the mornings and help with events. It was so meaningful for those folks, they want to help other people get back on their feet.”

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