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Hesed House runners get hand in race to their futures

Amy NelshusbCurtis hug paint Sunday former factory building used as resource center for Hesed House homeless shelter Aurora. They are

Amy Nelson and husband Curtis hug paint Sunday in a former factory building used as a resource center for Hesed House homeless shelter in Aurora. They are preparing to open a fitness center for shelter clients that will include exercise opportunities and classes. Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

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Crossover Running

Amy and Curtis Nelson are looking for monetary donations for supplies and equipment, or volunteers to help lead classes. Donations can be made via PayPal on the Crossover website.

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Updated: February 8, 2013 6:05AM

It’s amazing, the difference a year can make.

“We’re evolving,” Amy Nelson, founder of Crossover Running, said last week from her organization’s recently acquired new digs on River Street in Aurora. “It’s easy to see greatness in humanity when you follow your dreams and do what God calls you to do.”

Sitting inside an old rubber factory purchased by the Hesed House homeless shelter, Nelson doesn’t see the tattered windows or the cracked, concrete floors. She sees lives changing instead.

Last year, Amy and her husband Curtis reached out to Hesed House with aspirations of creating a running program for the homeless residents. They hoped that through exercise and teamwork, those in need of a life-boost would begin setting goals and making changes. By April, the couple had residents out of bed bright and early, running three days a week, and eventually competing in races they thought they could never run.

“We took a leap of faith,” Amy said.

And this year, the Nelsons are taking another.

When the running season finished up in September, Hesed House Executive Director Ryan Dowd approached the couple with a new blessing. He offered the organization space at the Hesed House-owned warehouse, which sits across River Street from the shelter. Dowd gave the couple free rein to do whatever they wanted with the open space and, in days, their new mission had begun.

“We want to expand beyond running. We want to offer circuit training, weight lifting, yoga, Pilates,” Amy said. “We don’t want to create a gym where people come in, put on headsets and isolate. We want to focus on teamwork, consistency and commitment.”

Creating the gym will not be easy, but the Nelsons feel compelled to follow through.

“I need to pursue what I know in my heart I should be doing,” Amy said, staring at freshly painted yellow walls.

Last week, volunteers began transforming the space. Wrestling mats, donated by the Naperville School District, will soon cover the floors. A mock-basketball court will eventually appear, donated machines will be put to good use, and homeless residents will be starting their new year off right.

As she reflected on the previous year, Amy couldn’t help but smile, thinking about the residents who participated in the Crossover program. Many have secured homes of their own and gone on to work new jobs or enroll in school.

“I feel not overwhelmed, but in awe of God,” she said. “I know that what we’re capable of is just a small amount of what’s happening through this program ... . It feels great to serve the people of our community.”

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