First Day Shoe Fund: A CIS Partner With Sole

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Pam Tate, AmeriCorps VISTA, fitting a student for a pair of shoes provided by First Day Shoe Fund.

Partnerships, like most things in life, begin by putting one foot in front of the other. The first steps for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) and First Day Shoe Fund (FDSF) go back to early 2000 when Valerie Denghel was a tutor at Edison Environmental Science Academy with CIS. Valerie noticed some children without appropriate shoes for school. So Valerie began buying shoes for one child at a time. Valerie went from buying shoes for individual children to taking a giant step and founding the First Day Shoe Fund.

First Day Shoe Fund, which believes that all children should start school on equal footing, is celebrating their ten year anniversary and we couldn’t be happier for this tremendous milestone.

“CIS is a crucial partner for what we do,” says John Curran, Executive Director of First Day Shoe Fund. “CIS staff go above and beyond to facilitate distribution of shoes to children in the schools. For ten years we’ve relied on this successful partnership to help us do what we do and we look forward to many more years of working together.”

CIS is proud to have partnered with FDSF since its beginnings to help identify children in need of shoes and to create the infrastructure needed to get the shoes onto little feet. Valerie Denghel recalls that first distribution “On that hot summer day in 2006,” when First Day Shoe Fund, with the support of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and Junior Women of Kalamazoo distributed 307 pairs of shoes to children who needed them. (You can read her full reflection by going here).

By the Fall of 2014, we were still in step as partners, distributing 1,654 pairs of new shoes to students. The nonprofit organization has gone on to create an even bigger footprint by expanding beyond Kalamazoo Public Elementary Schools and into Comstock Public Elementary Schools and Paramount Academy. John Curran notes that this past year, the organization provided 4,371 pair of shoes!

20151021-_dsc7121Over these past ten years, First Day Shoe Fund, their board, and volunteers have worked hard to help meet a basic need: shoes. CIS values the sustained commitment First Day Shoe Fund makes to children to ensure they have both the physical comfort of correctly sized shoes and the sense of pride and belonging that comes with having appropriate footwear to start the year on the right foot. New shoes are one of the important pieces of the puzzle that fit together to help all of our children achieve the Promise.

As John Brandon, Partner Services Coordinator for Communities In Schools puts it, “First Day Shoe Fund is an essential partner, working with us to address the needs of the whole child. Our CIS staff positioned within Kalamazoo Public Schools see children celebrating new shoes and showing up for school, not just the first day, but throughout the year thanks to First Day Shoe Fund.”

Shoes off to you, First Day Shoe Fund!

 

 

 

What’s Underwear Got To Do With It?

I once worked with this guy—let’s call him Ben. First day on the job he showed up in a short sleeve shirt and sandals. Apparently, he didn’t get the memo that it was cold and snowing outside. Ben also smelled a bit funky. A male colleague pulled him aside and encouraged him to use deodorant. (Later, Ben admitted that it was challenging enough to get food on the table, let alone worry about such extravagances as deodorant.) We tried not to smell him.

Or stare.

But it was hard not too, especially when, during the middle of a presentation Ben was required to give, he wet his pants. The boss sent him home. Ben returned the next day. He was wearing the same pants and they hadn’t been cleaned. He didn’t last long on the job. How could he? He didn’t even have the basics.

Okay, so I fibbed. I never worked with a guy named Ben. But our CIS Site Coordinators do. Every day they have younger versions of Ben coming into their offices. These children want to do their job: be the best student they can be. But they need help with having the basics covered (literally!) so they can focus on learning. Last year, Site Coordinators reached into the “CIS Kids Closet” and handed out over 7,200 items of clothing items, personal care, and school supplies to kids. That need for the basics continues to grow. This school year, the demand for socks and underwear (particularly the smaller sizes) has never been greater.

So what do underwear, socks, and shoes have to do with school success? If you ask one of our little Bens, they’ll tell you that sometimes it is everything. Speaking of underwear, I’ll leave you with a portion of an email I recently received from our Executive Director, Pam Kingery.

…this past weekend I was doing “big shopping” for Kids Closet—cart overflowing with children’s socks, underwear, and pants, this time all small sizes as the numbers of wee ones have increased.  So for the first time I was buying lots of size 4 undies and pants.  Anyway, when I do this, I attract a lot of attention in the check-out line at Kohl’s—mostly because no one wants to get behind me.  However, many curious on-lookers start by staring, followed by, “uh, um, do you have twins or something?”  Usually I make jokes and say I have lots of grandchildren or the bargains are just too good to pass up. This time I told them that really, I just have 12,000 kids, lots of whom need a little help with socks, underwear, and pants.