Laguna High students flex new shoes from nonprofit

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, October 25, 2021

Laguna students get new shoes from Shoes 4 Kidz.

Some students returned to class with an extra spring in their step on Oct. 21 at Laguna High School after the Shoes 4 Kidz nonprofit visited to match teens with brand new kicks, just in time for the rainy weather.

At the Forestville campus, the high schoolers eagerly tried on their new shoes and hovered around their friends pulling sneakers from Nike, Vans and Adidas, hyping each other up. Some of their excitement may have had to do with being in the same room as the Shoes 4 Kidz president, former Raiders linebacker Jerry Robinson.

Senior Marcos Oakes held his new black Nike mid-tops close.

“For me, I had to buy my own shoes,” he said. “Didn’t really go back-to-school shopping, didn’t really have the money this year because of COVID, with parents getting laid off and stuff like that. This definitely has helped me in multiple ways.”

Across the room, junior Ciara Garcia sat on a couch putting her shoes on. “I think this is really cool. It gives a good opportunity for students who don’t have this kind of money to be buying nice shoes to actually get to get nice shoes for free,” she said.

In March 2021, Principal Allie Greene held that the continuation high school has acted as “the safety net” for the West Sonoma County Union High School district, serving its highest density of low-income, foster, homeless and special education students.

Greene and Shoes 4 Kidz founder and CEO Myriah Volk coordinated the shoe giveaway at Laguna High for about 25 students. She said the school is so small that office staff get to know the students more personally and which ones might not be able to get new shoes otherwise.

“It’s the rainy season, so we thought it would be really nice as we’re going into winter to make sure our kids with the highest degree of risk are able to get a brand new pair of shoes,” the principal said.

In addition to its weekly free groceries program, Laguna High School also offers a student closet twice a week for students to “shop” for clothes for free. Greene said the nonprofit contacted the school to offer shoes after seeing a call for donations to the closet on Facebook.

Volk noted that some students came in from the rain wearing flip flops and shoes with holes in them. She first began pairing kids with new shoes as a P.E. teacher in Sebastopol, she said. A student’s shoes were falling apart the day of the mile run, Volk recalled, and she had to tape his shoe together so he could participate.

She went home and started a GoFundMe to get him some new shoes and the cause took flight as a nonprofit. Three years later, Volk said she ran into the student at a cross country event, looking healthy and happy. In the six years since the nonprofit began, Shoes 4 Kidz has provided almost 5,000 pairs of athletic shoes to young people without the resources many take for granted, Volk said.

It was a photo of the student’s shoes taped together that moved Robinson to join the organization. Volk happened to be his granddaughter’s mentor at Cardinal Newman High School when he attended a Shoes 4 Kidz fundraiser, he said.

“I was watching her PowerPoint presentation at the event and a screen popped up and there was a kid with a pair of shoes with electrical tape wrapped around his shoes,” Robinson said. “And I looked at that picture and it touched my heart to the point where the tears started coming out of my eyes and going down my cheeks. I was looking and I said, ‘That was me.’ I know what it’s like to be in that situation. So, I was hooked.”

The two now host a positive news podcast called People Doing Good where they’ve talked with changemakers in Sonoma County and others. Robinson spoke of the shoe giveaway as the kind of surprise that can feel like a new start for some students.

Oakes said he had no idea what type of shoe he’d receive, just that he’d been summoned to the office and asked his shoe size and preferred brand one day.

“I’m trying to say this quietly so the staff don’t get too full of themselves, but yeah, this is the best school I’ve been to,” Oakes said, praising the programs and adding, “I actually feel like I actually have a future, coming to this school.”

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