Each year the News-Democrat & Leader selects a stand-out organization in the community and highlights them for all they do to make our world a better place. It is always difficult to choose one among so many in Logan County who help others throughout the year. We are truly a blessed community to have so many who care for one another. This year, however, it is a little different as the ND&L has selected an initiative driven by a group, which has so far in the last six years supplied not only shoes, coats and jeans to children, but built up self-esteem and confidence along the way that will change future generations.
The Russellville Rotary Foundation and its Happy Feet = Learning Feet program is the 2015 ND&L “Group of the Year.”
The program began when Rotarian Jim Riley saw a similar program take off in Union County, in which shoes were purchased through the school system for every school aged child in the area. Riley believed this was something that could be implemented in Logan County as well, and felt the Russellville Rotary Club could become the conduit to make that happen. With that in mind, in 2010 Riley got together with the school resource directors at both Russellville and Logan County systems to get an idea of the number of pairs of shoes that would be necessary to address the situation in Logan County.
According to Russellville Rotary President Joe Ross, the research that inspired the program found that children with poor footwear performed noticeably worse at school than other children.
“When the club called upon the community for funds to support the program, there was an overwhelming response, which enabled the club to purchase a pair of shoes from Shoe Carnival for all of the children in need here locally,” said Ross. “The program was such a success in the years that followed, that coats were added to the program to address an additional area of need. In 2015, the most recent year of the program, a pair of blue jeans was also made available to each participant,” added Ross.
Since its inception, the Happy Feet program has raised more than $116,000 to provide shoes, jeans, and jackets for the youth in Logan County.
“This is our Rotary clubs biggest community outreach project. The entire club is heavily involved in supporting the project and raising the necessary funds,” said Ross. “Much of the credit goes to the Happy Feet board. Jim, Laurie Holloway, and Danny Harris in particular have devoted a lot of time since the programs inception to ensure that this project was a success. Susie Rigsby from Carr Riggs and Ingram is a non-Rotary member who deserves a great deal of credit for the work she has put into the Happy Feet program over the years.”
Happy Feet board members are Jim Riley, Laurie Holloway, Ben Brown, Danny Harris, Keith Cox, Holli Brown, Sandra Kinser, and Billy Bingham.
Last month the club got to see first hand the impact of the program locally. A local student requested to come to the weekly Rotary meeting and address the club regarding the program. During what has been described as a very moving and emotional thank you, this student gave a first-hand account of the positive impact this program had on her and her family.
“I was impressed by the strength and courage of this young woman; to come and address a room full of mostly strangers and share such personal details for someone of such a young age,” said Ross. “The thank you was so moving that several members of the club teared up during it. It is great to see how much this program helps the young people of our community. The goal of the program was to provide all children with appropriate footwear, which has been shown to have a positive impact on school performance. With this student, and I am sure so many others, we know that we are reaching that goal. “
Though the Rotary club takes the funds in, 100 percent of the proceeds raised by the fundraising drive go for the benefit of the Happy Feet program to purchase, shoes, coats, and blue jeans. In a day when most who donate would love to see their money at work, this Rotary effort provides just that.
Shoe Carnival has been a great partner with the Russellville Rotary club and other clubs in this process, providing the shoes at a much reduced rate and bringing volunteers over to assist with measuring the students shoe size and distributing the shoes, with coordination by the student resource director at each school.
“The citizens of this community are truly loving and caring individuals,” said Riley. “They are so supportive in helping the young people have better opportunities through a pair of new shoes, a warm coat and a pair of jeans to wear. It makes me feel wonderful and truly blessed to be a part of this program.”
To contact Chris Cooper, email [email protected] or call 270-726-8394.