Michele Hays, who founded the Evanston online effort called Back On Their Feet, which helps people in crisis, announced Saturday afternoon via social media she is resigning after six years. 

Michele Hays, founder of community Facebook effort Back on Their Feet

“While I wish I had the energy to continue on, I’m realizing it’s not good for myself or anyone else to keep doing so,” she wrote in an 829-word post on Facebook and LinkedIn titled “Resignation.” 

“I’ve decided that I need to step away from Back On Their Feet. If we can find a group willing to take over the administration of the group, it will remain available – otherwise, our community will need to make some difficult decisions.

“My hope is that this will reinvigorate the group to create a community in Evanston where everyone helps each other.” 

Back On Their Feet is a virtual effort, which describes itself as an “informal, ad-hoc Facebook Group that helps connect Evanstonians in need to existing resources.”

Hayes administers a Facebook page of 3,200 members for people to share items for families in crisis and then a second Facebook page, Sharing Site – Back On Their Feet, of 2,200 members.

Hays explained in her post that the organization started at the Women’s March in Washington D.C. in 2017, when a friend called, saying she and her family were homeless. 

She wrote: “The group I was with gathered immediately to begin troubleshooting. With our combined resources, we eventually helped them find long-term housing, furnishings and household supplies. I think we had about thirty people who came together to help that family of five – it was a heartening experience I will never forget.”

But, Hays said, “Unfortunately, over the last six years, the yawning gaps in our safety net system became apparent. No amount of hard goods made an appreciable difference.

“I felt like the boy in the story with just his finger holding back the flood in a crumbling dam. We began finding many real needs that just weren’t covered by any program.

“Our mission started to creep from offering referrals to direct crisis management. This would have been fine if we *actually* had the many hands that a Mutual Aid model requires.

“Unfortunately, the work we started with 30 people helping one family turned into a very small handful of people helping hundreds of families, and even the benefit of offering items began to trend more towards a convenient place for junk disposal rather than the intended community support.”

Hays thanked all of those who have helped and said: “My ultimate aim in writing this is that we get more hands to lighten this load. The problems we wrestle with aren’t going away any time soon.

“I still firmly believe that, collectively, we have the resources to solve every social problem in Evanston: we just lack the commitment to do so.”

Susy Schultz

Susy Schultz is the editor of the Evanston Roundtable. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and is the former president of Public Narrative, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching journalists and...

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