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Grant brings new shoes, confidence to children in Akron Public Schools

Kids wearing winter coats
A grant to Project Shoes is keeping children's feet warm and dry this winter.

As a former guidance counselor for Akron Public Schools, Barbara Oldham knows how heart wrenching it can be to see students whose basic needs aren't being met. Often, she could tell just by the shoes on their feet.

"In the winter, they would be wearing threadbare sneakers or shoes that had holes in them with the soles falling off," said Oldham, who is now retired. "Or they would have shoes that were really too small or way too big."

But thanks to a grant from the Millennium Fund for Children, counselors like Oldham are able to make a tangible difference in these kids' lives by helping them purchase brand new shoes – something most of them have never had before.

Started in 1971, Project Shoes provides families of young students in Akron with new weather-appropriate shoes for school. Students are referred by their guidance counselors and principals, and their parents are given a $30 voucher that can be redeemed at Payless ShoeSource.

Choosing their own brand new pair of shoes not only brings a smile to the kids' faces, but it also renews their self-esteem and confidence.

"I think having the kids pick out which shoes they want makes them proud of what they have," said Kay McIntyre, executive director of Project Shoes. "It's all about giving them the tools to help them succeed in the classroom."

In addition to the immediate physical benefits of having warm, dry feet, getting a new pair of shoes allows the students to focus on their schoolwork and grades instead of worrying about how they're going to walk home in the snow.

It also lifts a heavy burden off the children's parents, who are able to buy groceries or pay rent instead of purchasing new shoes. Even better, since the vouchers are given directly to the parents, many kids don't even realize the shoes are a gift from charity.

"They see their parents being able to provide shoes for them, which creates a sense of security," McIntyre said. "They don't have to know Mom and Dad are struggling. The most important thing is they just know they're being taken care of."

McIntyre said another key part of the program focuses on getting kids involved in helping their peers. During shoe drives hosted by Project Shoes, students at schools like Revere can bring in their gently worn shoes for the Haven of Rest, a local homeless shelter. McIntyre said it teaches kids about the importance of giving to others who are less fortunate and offers them a concrete way to help.

McIntyre frequently gets thank-you notes from kids who have been helped by the program. The notes, carefully printed and covered in stickers, fuel her passion and remind her that Project Shoes – and the Millennium Fund – are truly life-changing.

"I love my shoes," wrote one young girl named Sabree. "I am really lucky. Now I won't get any colds or frostbites."

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