Over 700 western Kentucky students, who are most in need, now have a new pair of shoes. This donation is made possible through a local non-profit which is strongly supported by the community and area businesses.
“Before I got involved, I didn’t realize these needs existed,” Cheri McNary, Happy Feet Committee Chair, explained. Hopkins County launched its Happy Feet program in 2012. This initiative benefits students within both the Hopkins County School District and Dawson Springs Independent Schools. Providing school children with new name brand athletic shoes remains its mission. Spanning nearly a decade, more than 5,500 students have walked away with new shoes so far.
“It warms your heart to know you’re making a lasting impression,” Amy Lynch, Browning Springs Youth Services Coordinator, shared. Although the end goal is unchanged, the set up slightly shifted this year.
The previous model involved a day of measuring student’s feet, followed by placing an order that included a lone shoe option for boys and girls. The children waited weeks for the items to be delivered. Indiana based company Shoe Sensation has since stepped in to provide a variety of brands, colors and sizes for students to choose from. The improved selection process was set up in a private location on school property. Children were allowed to choose which pair of shoes were worn back to class.
“You get hugs from kids that say ‘thank you’ and it really breaks your heart,” Shoe Sensation’s Market Sales Director, Amanda Crowell, described. “When you put a pair of shoes on a kid that is wearing two sizes too small and you see their faces light up no matter the age, it makes them feel better.”
With open arms and a giving heart, McNary works as Independence Bank Vice President and Loan Officer. She has become passionate about philanthropy. The Bank is among several sponsors at two staple annual fundraisers. The entity’s fall event is expected to be held on October 21st. The second gathering, March Mania, is scheduled for spring. The dollars collected directly make a difference.
“I know how a new pair of shoes makes me feel,” McNary added. “I could not even imagine, when I started doing this, that I would meet and talk to kids who said they have never been able to choose a new pair of shoes.”
All donations raised in Hopkins County stay local and benefit students there. Hopkins County Happy Feet is completely funded from community donations. All administrative and committee duties are done on a volunteer basis and no salaries are earned. “It is very humbling,” McNary stated. “This puts it all in perspective.”
A student’s physical and mental health is a program priority. Not having basic personal items can distract a student from performing well in school. A new pair of shoes can build self-esteem and prevent bullying. “This may be the only pair of shoes they get until we do this event next year,” Lynch noted.
Happy Feet continues to evolve to meet more needs. It is expanding to help even more students through new programs such as the Teen Christmas Shopping Project and A Chance to Dance. Its committee is comprised of 20 diverse members who help represent and reach various pockets of the population. Coordinating availability can, admittedly, be a challenge for planning purposes. Yet, the wholesome results are rewarding.
“It’s all worth it,” McNary smiled. “To see the smiles from students when those new shoes get laced up on their feet and they walk back to class.”