Let's Make a Difference Together—It's Not Too Late
By Brad Thuringer, PTA
It started at APTA's Annual Conference in Boston in 2005. I was walking back to the hotel with my colleague and fellow PTA Kerry Williams. We had a late dinner and decided to stop at a fast food restaurant for ice cream.
That's when I saw a mother and her 2 kids, a brother and sister ages maybe 9 and 11, sitting at a table. There was no food in front of them—just several large bags brimming with what looked like the family's possessions. They looked bedraggled and tired.
I managed to engage them in a bit of small talk, and I mentioned that Kerry and I were planning to get ice cream. When the little boy blurted out, “That sounds good!" that was the opening I needed to convince the mom to allow me to buy the family dinner.
Things did not end there. In fact, that was just the beginning.
As we sat and visited with the family, I had noticed that the girl's cloth tennis shoes were quite worn and that the laces were tied only about halfway up because both of them had broken at some point. That image has been with me these past 14 years.
With every conference since then, our association and its members have made a difference in the city we visit through the Shoes4Kids program. With a simple gift of a new pair of athletic shoes, physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and physical therapy students have given a child a chance to feel special.
A childhood is supposed to be magical, carefree time. However, children who live in poverty and lack adequate clothing and shoes can experience stigma, low self-esteem, ridicule and bullying—all of which can influence their self-confidence, learning, and success.
With Shoes4Kids, we do not just give a child any old pair of shoes--we give them brand-new shoes and socks, measured exactly for their feet.
Despite the instability of a child’s home life, a positive experience such as a Shoes4Kids event can help a child feel special and free. And though providing shoes and socks may seem like a small thing when compared with the challenges faced by many of these children and their families, this simple gift can have a powerful impact.
Believe me, I've seen that impact firsthand.
There was the time a dad in Baltimore solemnly and with deep appreciation shook my hand after we had given his son a new pair of basketball shoes. Memorable, too, was the joy on a young girl's face in Salt Lake City when she exclaimed, "I'm so glad I don't have to wear these anymore!" She was trying to hide from sight her old slippers, but I caught a glimpse of them. They were worn completely through.
I, too, remember a boy at a shelter in Woodbridge, Virginia, who did not want to try on his new pair of shoes because, he reluctantly confided to me, his feet smelled. I assured him that I could relate—my feet smell too, just ask my kids. He soon was fitted with a new pair of shoes that he could not wait to wear to school.
I have seen our profession do good things. But working with volunteers to help a child select new socks and fitting them perfectly with a pair of bright-colored athletic shoes—and then seeing a parent wiping tears of happiness—is powerful and something that's completely consistent with who we are as a profession.
Another Shoes4Kids drive will be held during the 2019 NEXT Conference, June 12-14 in Chicago. My hope is to have tables full of beautiful shoes, to watch the children who attend Woodlawn Community Elementary School smile and giggle when they receive our gifts, and to hear one say, “I will go running in my new shoes. I will finally be able to run faster.”
However, Shoes4Kids is short on funds to purchase the necessary shoes next month.
Can you donate $50.00 to help purchase a pair of socks and shoes to give a child an equal opportunity to have good shoes in gym, run faster, and feel just a little more confident? Although we're accepting donations of shoes and socks onsite at NEXT, you don't have to attend to participate—your monetary contributions will help us help the kids. Check out the Shoes4Kids webpage for complete information on how you can make a difference.
We've seen it over and over in our profession: we are better together, and amazing things can happen. It's time to come together again.
Brad Thuringer, PTA, is the founder of Shoes4Kids.