Bundled up, but still shivering in the bitter cold, members of Kids with Sole, a community-based, intergenerational chapter of Youth Action International (YAI), took a step in the right direction Sunday.
Along with their supporters, they walked a mile around the Rye Neck High School track to raise funds to meet their goal, putting shoes on the feet of every barefoot child in Monrovia, Liberia.
Kids with Sole was founded in April 2008 after Rye Neck sophomore Kaila Pedersen listened to a speech by YAI founder and leader Kimmie Weeks. Weeks, a Liberian civil war survivor, founded Youth Action International while studying at Amherst College. The organization supports the needs of children and families living in post-war countries.
As she listened to Weeks, Pedersen became aware of the pressing issues regarding poverty and human rights around the world. She didn't know how, but immediately decided that she wanted to take action and be part of the change.
Pedersen enrolled in an independent learner program led by Rye Neck's Dr. Valerie Feit. Together, they reached out to Kimmie Weeks, who told them that one of the most vital and often ignored necessities for Africa's children was proper footwear. Pedersen was surprised to learn that barefoot children in impoverished areas are subject to injury, disease and infirmity.
Kids with Sole, now an official chapter of YAI, aims to collect 10,000 pairs of sneakers to send to children in post-war Liberia. They have ongoing fundraising efforts to pay for the shoes and the shipment. To date, they are one-fifth of the way there. Just a few months ago, they worked with Weeks to distribute their first shipment of more than 2,000 pairs of shoes to Liberia.
"When I heard that the sneakers had finally arrived in Africa, that just made my day," Pedersen said. "All day long I was so excited - I couldn't concentrate in my classes. It felt amazing to know that all the work had produced something tangible and that the children would finally be getting shoes on their feet."
That excitement was echoed yesterday, when members gathered out on the snowy Rye Neck High track to complete their walk, which they did in record time. After the race, participants hurried inside for celebratory hot chocolate and cookies, and to attend a talk from YAI board member Levan Moulton.
The highlight of the afternoon was seeing the photos and video of the children in Monrovia receiving their sneakers. As rewarding as it was to see the Liberians' enthusiasm, the size of the crowd was a sobering reminder that Kids with Sole's work is not yet done.
When Pedersen graduates this year, sophomore Amanda Hulburt will take the reins, or the laces in this case. Hurlbut has big shoes to fill (and collect), but she isn't intimidated.
"I want to double this year's number by collecting 4,000 pairs next year and ultimately get to that 10,000 pair goal," Hurlbut said.
The groups short-term goals are using the new Kids with Sole Web site as an outlet; extending outreach to Rye Country Day School, where a branch of Kids with Sole was started last year; expanding the program to other schools; and spreading YAI's mission.
Dr. Feit couldn't be prouder of her independent study students, among them Pedersen and Hurlbut, and of parent members of the group, whose work has generated support from the entire community.
"Kids with Sole is a true model of global leadership," Feit said. "I'm getting to witness the butterfly effect in action, an authentic opportunity to actually see a ripple in Rye Neck make a difference halfway around the world."
Mindy Gibson is involved in the Rye Neck School District PTSA and volunteers in the community. Her daughter Sophie is a member of Kids With Sole.