this photo shows a group of children receiving shoes from Shoes 4 the Soul at the University of the Cumberlands

Shoes 4 the Soul: Taking the “First Step Out of Poverty” in Kentucky

According to Buckner International, shoes “are the first step out of poverty” for children around the world. For the 10th year in a row, staff and students at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of the Cumberlands is helping children in rural Appalachia take that first step with a program called Shoes 4 the Soul.

This year’s program consisted of donating shoes, socks, t-shirts and hygiene items to about 550 students across several elementary schools in Kentucky, including Pleasant View, Pine Knot, Boston, Whitley North, Whitley East, Whitley Central, and Williamsburg Independent elementary schools. Cumberlands staff and students brought the items directly to the schools to be handed out by their family resource officers to the children who needed the items.

“Shoes 4 the Soul helps these children in a few different ways,” said Caitlyn Howell, director of Appalachian Ministries, who has organized the program for the last few years. “I think the biggest thing is the shoes. Shoes are a distinctive thing that builds confidence for the kids. We’re meeting some essential needs, but we’re also meeting psychological needs for these kids by providing a brand-new pair of shoes. In some ways, we’re reaching beyond physical needs and helping build confidence that they will carry with them into their future.”

Related: University of the Cumberlands ministry helps build beds for underprivileged children

All Cumberlands’ undergraduate students participate in various community service opportunities each semester, supporting the university’s mission of impacting others in positive ways while teaching students leadership through service. Shoes 4 the Soul is just one event that allows Cumberlands students to give back to their community and serve the children in it.

“The kids are always excited,” said Tammy Stephens, the family resource director for Williamsburg Independent School District. “Most of the kids receiving these shoes don’t get any other pairs of shoes outside of what they get from our family resource center. Little boys especially wear through their shoes quickly with how hard they play. This gives them a good pair of shoes to wear every day.”

The University of the Cumberlands has made it a campus-wide goal to support at least 500 students each year with shoes and other essential items. It costs just $30 to provide a child with shoes, socks, t-shirts, and hygiene products at Shoes 4 the Soul. To sponsor a child, visit ucumberlands.edu/shoes4soul/give.  For more information on Cumberlands’ community service initiatives, visit ucumberlands.edu/community-service.

This story has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of the Cumberlands website.

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