(Note: This year Cindy and Ray Coleman took over the Walk In Beauty Program from its founder, Wendy Sanborn, who is now fully absorbed with her duties as ANE's assistant director.)
“Do my new shoes have stars on them? Do my new shoes have hearts on them?” When the answer was yes, the little girl said with enthusiastic joy, “My new shoes have stars and hearts on them!!”
We were delivering an order of Walk In Beauty shoes to Mexican Hat Elementary when the little girl made her way in to the room in leg braces and with the assistance of crutches. It wasn’t until we saw her holding her new shoes within about an inch of her face and feeling them with her fingertips that we realized she was also severely visually impaired. Once the shoes were on her feet, we watched while, supported by her crutches, she bounced up and down on her toes to “try out” her new shoes. Her teacher later told us she came back to the classroom, held out one foot and exclaimed, “Look at my new shoes!”
This past October we delivered nearly 300 pairs of new shoes to young children in 11 different schools on the Navajo reservation. Based on funding, we determine how many pairs of shoes each school will receive. We then work with coordinators at each school who identify the children most in need of new shoes. Our coordinators measure each child’s feet and ask them what color they prefer. The orders are then sent to us to fill.
Our school coordinators are an inspiring group. Each has taken on this role in addition to the assignment they already hold at the school. They are nurses, reading interventionists, office staff, and teachers. They have a deep love for the children and an intense desire to help make each child’s educational experience more meaningful.
Dilkon Community School was added to our delivery this fall. Our coordinator there told us of her primary role working with displaced and homeless children. Her words gave us an even greater appreciation of how meaningful and important something as simple as a pair of shoes can be to a young child in need. While at Dilkon, one boy saw his younger brother’s name on a pair of shoes. He ran and got his brother and helped him lace up his new shoes. Both had huge smiles on their faces.
Each pair of shoes we deliver is purchased for a specific child. After receiving the orders from the schools, our volunteer buyers go shopping. Once they’ve filled the orders, they remove packing material, lace and tie the shoes together, and tag the shoes with the child’s name and school. Janet Dalton, Robin Field-Williams, Anna Law, and Jessie Bigelow all gave graciously of their time to make certain each child had their preferred color in their correct size for the fall delivery.
Shoe buying is a great opportunity to educate others about Walk In Beauty and ANE. While pushing a cart overflowing with shoes through check-out a clerk asked, “Are you a school teacher?” Customers in line will often ask why we’re buying so many shoes. One lady even asked if a buyer was a polygamist.
Delivery of the shoes is done in a way that honors the children. We don’t simply drop them off. Instead, we take time to try each pair of shoes on the children to ensure they fit properly. And, if for some reason they don’t, we take another measurement and buy and ship the child a pair of shoes as soon as we return home.
During one fitting a young boy asked, “Are these running shoes?” We said we didn’t know and asked, “Do they look like running shoes?” “Yes,” he said. “Well then, they must be running shoes.” He started running all over the class room. He came back and said, “My shoes run so fast!” He was running as he left.
After putting on his shoes, another boy asked, “Can I keep these shoes?” We asked him to stand up and let us make sure they fit. We said we thought they fit and asked if he thought they fit. He said they, “…fit real good.” So we told him he could keep them. He was quiet for a moment and then looked up and said, “My mom is gonna be so happy she doesn’t have to buy me shoes.”
Making Walk In Beauty shoe deliveries is both heart warming and heart wrenching. It is difficult to see the shoes the children have been wearing. Some have pushed down the back of their shoes so they can slip on a pair that is far too small for their feet. Others wear an older sibling’s larger shoes that don’t allow them to run and are a potential tripping hazard.
A little boy came in with glasses held together by wire on his down turned face. He seemed very timid when asked to try on his shoes. He didn’t have on socks and his little feet were extremely dirty. We put a clean pair of socks on him and then helped him with his shoes. Once they were on his feet, he asked, “How much did these shoes cost?” We said we didn’t know and asked how much he thought they cost. He said, “Fifty dollars.” Then he said, “My mom will be so proud.” As he was headed back to class, he said, “My new shoes feel so much better.”
The shoes we buy don’t cost “fifty dollars.” On average, they cost $20 per pair. We buy from the same stores where other kids at the schools typically buy from. We do this so the kids’ new shoes won’t be singled out as too cheap or too fancy by their peers.
It is difficult to consider going through the day with improper fitting shoes or shoes so worn through you can’t keep out the dirt, rain or snow. Even more difficult is the realization that $20 is all it takes to put a quality pair of shoes on a child and significantly alter their educational experience.
We have memories of the expectant looks on the children’s faces when we arrived and their joyous smiles when they received their new shoes. We feel so fortunate to be a part of helping children on the Navajo Reservation Walk In Beauty.
If you would like to learn more or make a donation to this program please visit the Walk In Beauty page of our web site.