Who Do You Run 4?: How One Facebook Group Is Inspiring Thousands

It’s easy to take what you have for granted, it’s easy to opt out of putting in the work to take care of ourselves, it’s easy to look at other people and not see them for everything that they are. Tim Boyle, founder of I Run 4, has been pushing against all of these instincts for the last 7 years – and his nearly 40,000-strong group on Facebook is proof that he’s making a difference. I Run 4 matches runners looking for inspiration with “buddies” who are unable to run themselves due to disabilities, and the result is often life-changing friendships.

“I Run Because I Can”

Sometimes we just run out of sources of inspiration. That’s exactly what happened to Tim Boyle in 2012. He was going through a divorce, struggling with his weight and a long-time smoking habit, and at a low point in his life. He’d also been battling depression for some time. He figured running could be a one-stop shop for everything: weight loss, cardiovascular health, and mental clarity. So, after he finally quit smoking in August of that year, he took the money he would normally spend on cigarettes and put it towards some new running gear.

Boyle quickly found that sometimes good intentions just aren’t enough; you need something to keep you going. That’s when a chance encounter on the internet changed everything. One day, while aimlessly scrolling, Boyle stumbled on a page run by a man named Michael Wasserman. Wasserman was auctioning off his paintings, but not to make money for himself – winning bidders were requested to send the money to an organization that focused on developmental disabilities. Boyle was intrigued and sent him a friend request, not knowing that he was starting a relationship that would make a huge difference in his life and the lives of many others.

It was Wasserman who would finally give Boyle the boost he needed to get moving, and keep moving. On a particularly low day, Boyle was looking for inspirational quotes and found this one: “I run because I can. When I get tired, I remember those who can’t run, what they would give to have this simple gift I take for granted and I run harder for them. I know they would do the same for me.” He posted it to Facebook and Wasserman was the first to comment: “You can run for me anytime.”

Michael Wasserman

“When I Get Tired, I Remember Those Who Can’t Run”

Michael Wasserman was born with Down Syndrome in 1961. At that time, there was no genetic screening for the disorder, and parents were encouraged to give up their newborns and send them to live in institutions. Mary Wasserman, Michael’s mother, would do nothing of the sort. Said Boyle, “when she gave birth, they pressured her hard to put him in a home and let him sit there and rot. She is one of the true pioneers in the Down Syndrome community. She has fought for more rights for parents and children, and for more of a say in what happens to them.” 

Michael, who was only expected to live to see his late 20s, is now in his late 50s, and doing well, according to Boyle. He is mostly nonverbal, and confined to a wheelchair due to hip dysplasia. When he told Boyle to run because he, Michael, couldn’t, Boyle took that very seriously. He wrote back to Michael and Mary (who helps Michael to communicate), “I want to be your legs. I am going to dedicate all of my training miles and my next race to you.” 

Mary was wary at first; according to Boyle, “the special needs community can be very careful and closed off. I needed people to vouch for me.” But Boyle won them over, and began sending regular updates on his progress to the Wassermans. Michael, with Mary’s help, sent Boyle regular updates on his painting and his pain management. 

Eventually, as he struggled to stay inspired while running during the bitter North Dakota winter of 2013, he asked a close friend, “If I’m doing it [running for someone who can’t], do you think other people would want to do it?” That’s when he created the Facebook page I Run 4 Michael. Boyle and Mary Wasserman began reaching out to those in the running and special needs communities, matching each interested runner with a “buddy” living with a disability, and the group expanded. Eventually, the Facebook page and accompanying nonprofit organization, I Run 4, was born.

“It Doesn’t Mean That They Are Entitled to Less of a Life Than We Are”

It’s easy to see how a large portion of our population could feel left out of things. According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 4 people in the United States is living with a disability, and, of those, nearly 14% have serious mobility issues and nearly 11% have serious cognition issues. Many of the buddies that participate in I Run 4 are children, and Boyle has seen how these children’s disabilities can affect – and even isolate – families. According to Boyle, “families of children with special needs tend to feel like they’re trapped in a cocoon, even family members tend to separate themselves, parents feel trapped like they’re in a tiny little shell. I Run 4 helps families feel like there’s people out there that care, that’s what makes it so successful.”

And I Run 4 has been just that – extremely successful. More than 500 people joined in the first month, and more than 15,000 in the first year. At its peak, it boasted around 45,000 people and today its membership hovers around 39,000. According to Boyle, the only reason for the drop in membership is that they simply couldn’t keep up with the demands to find buddies.

When asked how he finds so many people that want to be a part of I Run 4, Boyle said the whole process has been “organic. We’ve built up relationships with people, and it’s spread like wildfire.” As for pairing up the participants, he said that runners and buddies are randomly matched on purpose, so that people can step outside of their bubbles, and they are discouraged from bringing up their politics or religion – “We need to view others as people, not who they support,” Boyle explained. His whole worldview seems to be based on seeing people as whole beings, not just the sum of their parts. 

Ultimately for Boyle, creating the group was “about fighting for inclusion. Just because someone has been given a diagnosis or doesn’t have the same brain function, doesn’t mean they are entitled to less of a life than we are.” He wants people to see beyond diagnoses and differences, and he wants to bridge divides and create meaningful relationships.

“The Catalyst”

I Run 4 has become more than Tim Boyle could have imagined. In fact, he seems slightly in awe of it. “It’s pretty surreal to be the catalyst for bringing these people together,” he said, and spoke of runners and buddies from around the world not only sending each other daily or weekly updates on each others’ lives, but also traveling across the globe just to meet up. One runner was randomly matched with a buddy with kidney failure, and was later found to be a donor match for her buddy; as of about a year ago, she was scheduled to donate her kidney to her buddy. 


But Boyle wanted to emphasize that he knows he couldn’t do all of this alone. He still posts about once a week in the group, but he has stepped back from matchmaking in order to let others “get that amazing feeling.” He has a team of volunteers that he specifically wanted to mention, because, according to him, “they work their butts off, and the organization wouldn’t be anywhere without them.”

And Boyle and Wasserman’s relationship? They’re still in contact as often as they can be, and although Boyle is on a hiatus from running, he now plays softball and even mows his lawn “for Michael.” Boyle said he has been lucky enough to meet up with Wasserman in person twice. “It was surreal,” said Boyle, “it was kind of like meeting my Batman.” 

How You Can Help

The runners who participate in I Run 4 do not run to raise money; in fact, there is no fundraising allowed. All Tim Boyle wants runners to raise is awareness, and they do this in all sorts of ways when they run, from wearing DIY “I Run 4” shirts and hats to sporting tattoos of their buddies. I Run 4 does, however, accept donations on their website; you can also head there to sign up to be a runner or a buddy. In addition, in honor of Michael, who participated in the Special Olympics as a child, you might want to consider getting involved in that worthwhile organization. There are also numerous organizations that support families and people with disabilities, including The Arc, Easter Seals, and Parents Helping Parents.

A Movement of Doers: How One Nonprofit Is Tackling Homelessness

Most recently, if you’d gone looking for Terence Lester, you’d have found him on the streets of Atlanta, setting up portable hand washing stations. These sinks, which are sanitized and refilled each day, are meant to help the city’s homeless population keep their hands clean, something most of us take for granted. “Recognizing those experiencing homelessness as ‘people’ and not ‘problems’ is important,” Lester said about what he’s been doing. However, working with people in need is not new for Lester, who has been advocating for the homeless since co-founding Love Beyond Walls in 2013.

man with a mask on sitting on the back of a pickup truck touching a white sink.
Terence Lester places sinks around Atlanta, which are sanitized and refilled each day, are meant to help the city’s homeless population keep their hands clean,

A Second Chance

Terence Lester is no stranger to life’s insecurities. “I had [problems] myself during my teenage years,” Lester said. “I was in gangs, put out of school, and at one point I ran away from home. I lived in parks, out of my car, and with friends. So I had this period of experiencing homelessness myself as a teen.” Lester found out early on what it meant to be undervalued, and what it felt like to live on the edges of society.  Luckily, someone at an alternative school reached out to him and convinced him that if he returned to school, he would one day be a leader. And they were right!

According to Lester, “[t]hat was the first time I saw myself as having something to contribute, based upon all the trauma and pain that I experienced. I wanted to give back in a way that aligned my personal story, so this was it.” ‘This’ ended up being Love Beyond Walls, an ever-expanding organization that calls itself ‘a movement of doers’ on its website.

The Beginning of a Movement

It all started in 2004, when his wife and co-founder of Love Beyond Walls, Cecilia, met a group of people in need one evening. They wanted to help, so they went home and gathered whatever they could find to give. This set everything in motion.

That fateful evening, Cecilia asked if anyone needed any shoes. She remembers one woman excitedly answering that she had just been praying for a pair of shoes. According to Cecilia, “that was the moment where it all came alive – standing there, holding someone who the night before prayed for this and I am now fulfilling the need.” It was then that Terence and Cecilia came up with the idea for Love Beyond Walls.

Their idea became a reality in 2013, when they incorporated Love Beyond Walls as a nonprofit. Their basic idea was “to mobilize others to join them in moving past the walls that divide people, and to take love to people in creative ways.” Terence Lester also decided at that point that he needed to practice what he preached, and walk in the shoes of the people he was advocating for. His goal, after all, was to find a way to give people living in the margins a voice. He lived as a homeless person for a time, begging for food, sleeping under bridges, being turned out of shelters and restaurants, and experiencing every aspect of life in poverty. His experiences gave him a real sense of what it felt like to be ignored, and a real knowledge of what those in need needed most.

The Dreamers of Solutions

“We are the dreamers of solutions” says Love Beyond Wall’s website. Some of their solutions are meant to raise awareness, like marches to bring attention to the distances that those living in poverty need to walk everyday just to survive.

red shipping container with doors open and "experience the forgotten" on the side
Museum of Dignity

In 2018, Terence came up with the idea of the Museum of Dignity, which is a mobile museum that has been set up in a shipping container. Terence decided on a shipping container for his museum because, according to him, they are transient but filled with valuable things, just like the people he seeks to help.  According to the website, “[t]hrough interactive technology, research, storytelling, exhibits, and thought-provoking questions, visitors will confront their ideas of homelessness and what it takes to escape it.” The museum is an interactive experience, and those who enter are given a device loaded with the Dignity Museum app plus a set of headphones, which will guide them through different sections titled “Challenge Stereotypes,” “Create Empathy,” and “Call to Action.” They will hopefully leave with a better understanding of the conditions that people living with poverty endure every day.   

Lester is working hard to educate the public and to change the way they view poverty, but he is also providing concrete solutions to people in need. At his “Love Center,” people can access a number of different services. Those who are food insecure can get groceries, and those who need help finding employment can attend educational workshops to learn skills or find clothes for an interview. People who come to the Love Center can even wash their clothes at a volunteer-staffed laundromat or get a haircut from the “Mobile Makeover Bus.” Above all, they can find “community, opportunity, and hope.”

Terrence Lester doing one of his podcasts. 

Exactly as They Are

Love Beyond Walls, in their own words, is “committed to serving [their clientele] exactly as they are.” Terence Lester has no interest in questioning the motives, morality, or deservingness of the people he works with. What he’s trying to change is the way the world views and interacts with people who have been ignored for far too long. He’s working to mobilize what he calls an “army” of volunteers, and hopefully he will achieve his goal of breaking down the walls that divide us.

How You Can Help

If you are in the Atlanta area and are interested in getting involved with Love Beyond Walls, you can go to their website to look for upcoming volunteer opportunities, or fill out their “doers application” to offer your time or skills to the Love Center. If you aren’t in their area, you can still help by donating whatever you can, either with a one-time donation or a monthly automatic gift. If you have a business, consider becoming a corporate sponsor

There are also organizations in every part of the country that work with underserved populations. Try looking for your local food pantry and donating time, food, or whatever you can. Serving hot food at a local soup kitchen is also a great way to connect and help, as is getting involved with an organization like Backpacks for the Homeless, which has different chapters in different cities that distribute backpacks full of essential supplies to people living on the streets. You can also put together your own bags and give them to people who need them. There are many ways to help, and in the process, acknowledge the humanity of people who may not be as fortunate as you.

All photos provided by Terrence Lester.

Good People Doing Good: How One Small Nonprofit Is Spreading the Love

Have you ever gotten the feeling that there isn’t much good left in the world? Or that there’s nothing you can do to make a difference and you don’t have enough to offer? Well, Adam Theroux, founder of Good People Doing Good, is here to show you how big a small idea filled with goodness can become, and how anything you have to offer is enough. 

woman's hands with a small wrapped box in her palms.
Good People Doing Good gifts people in need.

Good People Doing Good is an organization with a goal as simple as its name. Like many charities, this one tries to brighten the lives of people going through financial or emotional struggles. GPDG does this by gifting money, grocery gift cards, heating oil, plane tickets, toys, or anything that might be especially useful or needed. When speaking with Adam about his organization, he explained that “[t]his movement is about helping people, not looking for help for oneself. People don’t write in about themselves. They write in about others they know.” For Adam, this means that he is not the only one performing the good act: the people who write to him about their friends, family, and neighbors also deserve some of the credit. 

Adam came up with the idea for Good People Doing Good in January 2018.  His giving started very small, with a few random acts of kindness: “I never had much money to give, but I had the passion and the time. That’s what made this all possible. I gave what I could.” Once he began, he realized that he wanted to expand and start giving on a larger scale. He formed GPDG and worked to raise trust among potential supporters. In addition to continuing to gain support through the charitable actions of GPDG, he increased his social media presence and made the organization as transparent as possible: “Every month, I send updates and photos of all gifts to our Patreon patrons.” 

Adam’s hard work paid off. He was able to raise enough money to incorporate and become an official nonprofit. To date, GPDG has raised over $23,000 from over a hundred patrons on three continents, and is giving out about $1000 a month to the people his supporters write to him about. Adam is humble about the success of his small venture: “I’m still flabbergasted that I have gained the trust of over a hundred people, to be at the helm of deciding who to gift all this money to, every month.” The scope of it is something he “literally never imagined.”

3 envelopes floating into a blue mailbox with a yellow flag up and email symbol on it.
People write in to the organization asking for a friend in need to get some assistance.

While Adam is pleased about the expansion of his organization, the best thing to him about running Good People Doing Good is seeing the reactions of those singled out for these acts of kindness. He cites one day in October 2018, when GPDG organized a pop-up toy giveaway in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, giving away three hundred toys in a couple of hours. “The smiles on the kids’ and parents’ faces were priceless,” he says – and they truly are. Watch the adorable video on Facebook.

Running Good People Doing Good is not all that Adam has on his plate. In keeping with his message, he is continuing to offer himself in as many ways as possible alongside his work with GPDG. He takes time from work and family to mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters, and has been a part of his “little brother’s” life for the last five years. He has also started a film festival, 401 Film Fest, which is free for budding artists to submit to as well as free to attend. The festival not only helps filmmakers gain exposure, but it has also raised $5000 over four years for Big Brothers Big Sisters. 

a metal box with a lock on the front that says "donations" on it
You can show support by becoming a monthly patron on Patreon or make a one-time donation via PayPal.

His newest project is a “positive news” podcast, Aggressively Positive, which he sees as another way to “prove it’s the little things that matter.” Check it out here.

What can possibly be next for Adam Theroux? For now, he’s happy with work, raising his baby, mentoring his “little brother” – and with the amazing trajectory of Good People Doing Good. Two years ago he could have never imagined  that his simple acts of kindness would grow so big. “What I want people to get from GPDG,” says Adam, “is that we are all human, here together. Everything…literally everything would be better if everyone was merely good.”

Those who want to support Good People Doing Good can become a monthly patron on Patreon or make a one-time donation via PayPal. There is also merchandise available for sale on the organization’s website. When asked what else people can do to “spread the good,” Adam’s answer is simple: “My only advice is offer what you can. If that’s money, then that works. If it’s volunteering your time, awesome! If you knit, make some gloves for the needy. Offer what you can.”