The clock is ticking for Rosemont students to collect shoes for Africa.
By Mary O’KEEFE
Their goal is to collect 2,500 pairs of gently used shoes in 15 days.
The objective is part of the “Think Kindness” project brought to students at Rosemont Middle School on Monday. The students will be competing with 60,000 kids from across the nation to collect as many shoes as they can to send to Africa – to kids who in some cases have never had a pair of shoes before.
The Rosemont PTA brought Brian Williams and his organization “Think Kindness” to the school.
“Our goal is to inspire youth and to [let them know] that everyone has the ability to make a difference,” Williams said.
Williams shared his kindness enthusiasm with the 1,280 Rosemont students during two separate assemblies. He not only inspired but also empowered them with the simple task of collecting shoes.
“It’s so much more than shoes,” he said.
Williams has a business background and a third degree black belt in martial arts.
When he was in college, a professor told him that kids could not make a difference in the world.
“I wanted to prove him wrong,” Williams said, and thought, “What if we inspire people to take action?”
He and his friends wanted to see if kids could make a difference in the world in a short amount of time. With a brief timeline as a foundation, they looked into what simple act would make a big impact.
“We asked each other, ‘What do we do?’” he said.
Then one of the friends came up with the idea of collecting shoes, and they began to research the possiblity.
“We found there were 300 million [people] in the world who go barefoot everyday,” he said. “And 2.4 billion new shoes were bought in 2013.”
Their first project involved three schools and with a goal to collect 5,000 pairs of shoes. They collected 8,000 pairs.
Then the kindness went further. The group decided to not just mail or donate the shoes to an organization but to hand pick an area in need and take them there, personally.
“We found an orphanage in Africa with 160 kids,” he said.
The group had four months to raise the money to send the shoes and themselves to this small African village where they would distribute the shoes.
Rosemont students sat quietly as Williams shared his story of his trip and what those shoes meant to the people and the children in Africa.
The group was surprised at what they found upon their arrival. They did not find sad, starving children but were greeted with smiling faces and laughter.
Williams told the Rosemont students that the kids were a lot like those in the states. Although they had a classroom that was anything but modern and they had pasts that were frightening and tragic, the children still loved learning, had dreams of what they would be when they grew up and loved playing tricks on adults.
What Williams also found was how important shoes were to the kids and to the nearby villagers. While visiting a school he saw kids on the playground.
“There was a fence [dividing] the playground,” he recalled. On one side were uniformed students, happy and playing, and on the other side were kids that were not playing, and they had no uniforms and no shoes.
Because Kenya is so impoverished, Williams said, the country couldn’t afford to give everyone an education. If a student had money to purchase a uniform, writing utensils and shoes they could go to school.
“So we found that this was not just [a gift] of shoes, it was the gift of education,” he said. “Education is their ticket out of poverty.”
The day they distributed the shoes people came from all over, some who walked as many as 12 miles. Williams shared a photo of a man who had never had a pair of shoes before. He shared the story of Grace, an AIDS orphan. Both her mother and father had died of AIDS and she had the disease as well. He spoke of how she was so kind to everyone and to her fellow students, of how she practiced simple acts of kindness by putting an encouraging note in another student’s pocket and comforted other students.
Williams said Grace inspired him and he hoped he inspired the Rosemont students. He urged them to not only collect the shoes but also to inspire kindness at their school.
“Be a kindness ninja,” he challenged the kids.
He told them that small acts of kindness like Grace did can be as powerful as big gestures.
The school has put together two donation boxes, one box for the seventh graders and one for eighth graders so not only is the competition with other schools across the country but within Rosemont.
At the end of the assembly the kids were up for the challenge. They are certain they can bring in 2,500 pairs of shoes but the clock is ticking and they need the community’s help.
Anyone who would like to donate gently used shoes, or even new shoes, can do so by dropping them off at Rosemont Middle School, 4725 Rosemont Ave. in La Crescenta or at the Fire House, 2563 Foothill Blvd. on Thursday mornings from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. or on Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Donors can specify if the donation is for seventh or eighth grade.