When is the last time you noticed the shoes that a child was wearing? Or the way he or she walked? Or whether the shoes were appropriate for the activity?
Often, we’re too busy, distracted and we have minimal eye contact, but nothing else; we really don’t look at the whole child and see the pain.
Several years ago, teacher, Jeanne Nara Nealon drove a student home after a school performance to find he lived in a hovel, a migrant camp out in the woods with no normal comforts that the rest of us take for granted. The children in the family shared the shoes that they had because that’s all they had. It became her focus to provide clothing, shoes and hope to kids that had nothing. She collected those things from friends and family members and gave them to the students in her middle school after school from the back of her car. They were always appreciative and often took clothing for family members so they could stay warm on those cold days without heat.
So began an organization called “Laces of Love,” devoted to providing new sneakers/tennis shoes/athletic shoes to needy students so they could participate in school activities, walk without blisters, wear the correct size shoes and not be humiliated by their peers.
Jeanne recounts the real stories of children who taped their shoes with scotch tape, masking tape and glue to keep them together so the flopping of the soles was not witnessed by their peers. Some hid their shoes under their desks and hoped fervently that no one would notice. One boy wore his father’s shoes because he had no others. Another boy tried white glue to hold his shoes together, which was not effective. A high school girl wore slippers to school because that’s all she had and another girl wore high heels that her mother’s friend gave her because she had no other shoes. They didn’t fit and she broke the heel off before school even started. Imagine the pain.
“Laces of Love” began with Jeanne, her sister, Mary Myrmo, and Susy Warren, who was experienced with non-profits and philanthropic donations and has grown from providing 23 pairs of shoes in their first year to 65 pairs in the second year. By 2015, 9,912 students in Collier and Lee Counties had received shoes. Now, there have been 100,000 shoes distributed to needy students.
Are you asking, “Where are these students?”
They’re all around us, in our own backyards; in migrant camps, middle class families who have hit hard times and have to choose between feeding their children or paying their electric bill or getting another pair of shoes or children who are fending for themselves because a parent has abandoned them.
Jeanne experienced two very talented girls who wanted to try out for the middle school track team, but one girl’s shoes were stolen and she couldn’t afford to replace them. Her friend offered to share hers. The problem was that one girl had a size 8 shoes and the other wore a size 7. They shared them anyway, no matter the limping and secrecy. The coach noticed near the end of the season and contacted “Laces of Love” who provided shoes for the girls, both for track and for school.
“Laces of Love” receives calls from many schools in Southwest Florida and works hard with their 100% volunteer board to meet the needs of the students. Donations make up the majority of their purchasing power and they work with shoe stores to take advantage of sales and purchasing in bulk to provide as many shoes as possible to students.
On one delivery to a school, Jeanne had the privilege of delivering shoes personally to a student with threadbare socks and sore toes popping out of the torn material on the top of her worn shoes. Jeanne’s excitement turned to tears when she put new socks and shoes on the little girl’s blistered feet.
The girl was puzzled. “Why are you crying? This is the happiest day of my life!”
There have been many notes received by “Laces of Love.” One mother expressed her relief when her three children had been given new shoes at school. They hadn’t been able to pay their bills due to being out of work and, with her cancer treatments, new shoes weren’t the priority.
Former Chicago White Socks pitcher, Chris Sale, is a strong supporter of “Laces of Love” along with his wife Brianne. They recognized that students who couldn’t play sports only because they lacked the funding for shoes was intolerable and they made great strides to help.
Jeanne Nara Nealon is an educator, motivational speaker and was named Teacher of the Year in Collier County in 1994 and is a Golden Apple Recipient. “Laces of Love” has provided shoes to Tommie Barfield, Manatee Elementary and most of the schools in Collier and Lee Counties, but efforts like this aren’t successful without donations.
Imagine if it was you without shoes. Contact www.lacesoflove.org or call Jeanne personally at 239-591-1172 to help with this amazing project that helps to focus our kids on learning, not on their painful feet.
Her book, “Laces of Love; New Shoes for Needy Kids” is a compilation of true stories about our children and is available by donation; 100% of which goes to purchase new shoes for needy kids.
(The name “Laces of Love” is a registered Service Mark. It may not be used by any individual or organization without the expressed, written approval of the “Laces of Love” Board of Directors.)
Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!