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Former college football player finds purpose in West Side wellness campaign

Running club helps West Side focus on health & fitness
Running club helps West Side focus on health & fitness 03:13

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Running toward a brighter future on the West Side of Chicago.

CBS 2's Jackie Kostek has the story of one man on a mission to change the narrative in his native Garfield Park through health and fitness. She caught up with him as he and the group set out for a weekly long run.

Well before sunrise in Garfield Park, Jackie Hoffman has the group fired up.

"It's all surrounded around love. That's the biggest thing that people get when they come to Peace Runners; a place where it's inclusive, and they can just show up as themselves, and we love them as themselves," he said.

Hoffman is the founder of Peace Runners 773, a holistic health non-profit based on the West Side that is meeting individuals where they are, in order to uplift an entire community.

"We know that, if people are moving, then we can start to get them lined up as far as like with the diet. Once we throw in the diets, and yoga, and get them to start to value themselves, have them more confident for themselves, once that happens, it's just the progression of every single person," he said.

The whole idea for the program came from the progress made by a single person about three years ago.

"My mom first inspired me. Coming home and noticing that she had some health issues, I wanted to help her," Hoffman said. "I changed her diet, and challenged her for a mile every day, and then just seeing the progress that she made."

At the time, Hoffman found himself in transition, and in need of a transformation too. A star athlete growing up, Hoffman played Division 1 football in Florida, and earned a workout with the Bears. But the true hit came when he returned home.

"It went from ESPN – watching me on ESPN – and then coming back home to working at Walgreens, and people would walk in and be like, 'Jackie Hoffman?' And I would be like, 'oooh.' But it needed to happen for me, and it just made me reflect on myself, and say like, 'what else is life going to come with? What is for you?'" he said.

In helping his mom drop 60 pounds and go from 13 medications to two, Hoffman was helping himself find purpose, and a sense of urgency to tackle the relatively low life expectancy on the West Side compared to other parts of the city.

"With my own health scare, it's kind of like, making a decision that I have a goal. I want to live to 100. That's my goal. So it's like, what can I do to make that happen?" said Peace Runners member Mattie Buckley.

Buckley, a two-time breast cancer survivor, started walking with Hoffman's mom a couple of years ago, and is now the oldest Peace Runner to train for the Bank of America Chicago 13.1 half marathon on the West Side in June; logging more miles every week than she's ever run before.

"It feels really good," she said.

And when people feel good, they tend to do good, and that can change everything.

"Most of the community of the West Side, all we hear is, gunshots and violence and everything like that. But it's people like us in the community that's actually trying to do something to change that narrative. Like we get up every day and run and give people hope," said Peace Runners 773 member Brandon Nolan.

"I want my legacy to be someone who made change, and I think that that is bigger than actually being an NFL football player, if I'm changing the community, and the impact is changing Chicago. So I think that that is a bigger lesson in that. So I'm grateful," Hoffman said.

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