Another way to help: voluteering at a hospital

By Lindsay Spann, 18, Concord High School
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Lindsay and Chelsea Spann are part of a A Walk In Your Shoes, a group of teens collecting shoes for needy kids.

A good pair of shoes for the right occasion makes a kid walk tall. That is what my 17-year-old sister Chelsea thought when she started a new charity called A Walk In Your Shoes a few months ago. Her idea is for teens to help each other by recycling used or slightly defective shoes from the people who have too many shoes to teens who have none. "There are times when self-confidence really counts, like graduation day, quinceaneras, religious ceremonies or proms. That is why we want to help kids our own age feel pride," said Chelsea.

Chelsea came up with the idea last June when she saw a green dumpster at Westchester High School overflowing with expensive athletic shoes. The shoes, abandoned in student gym lockers, were being cleared out at the end of the school year. Chelsea said she felt overwhelmed. "When I saw the waste of such a wonderful resource, I quickly calculated that if every school did this same thing all over the city, what a mind-boggling waste this would be. This wasn’t penny aluminum cans or plastic bottles."

Chelsea started out by contacting all her friends through e-mail and out of about 100 people, 11 wanted to get involved—13 including me and Chelsea. We all agreed to form a Board of Directors and start our own non-profit. I was surprised because these kids have so much going on in their lives—college applications, SATs, extracurriculars—and they were willing to contribute their time and ideas.

We all got busy

Before we knew it, everyone had gathered at our house for our first Board Meeting. We had so many things to figure out: How can we get non-profit status so that donors can get a tax deduction? How can we get a bank account? Where can we store the shoes until distribution day? I sat back and watched my little sister, who is usually bubbly and scattered, create a professional atmosphere. She had a written agenda, delegated tasks and kept it to two hours long. I was very impressed.

We agreed that every teen who was involved should get something out of it. Each member of the Board of Directors will receive a letter of recommendation and recognition that can be used in their college application process. But teens who aren’t on the Board will get something too. "Each teen that helps to collect, sort, or distribute shoes will get community service hours which helps to meet high school requirement," said Cecily Davis, 16, Chelsea’s best friend and Finance Chairman on the board.

Chelsea and Cecily set out to get non-profit status by consulting with "We The People" in Marina del Rey, a low-cost legal service that helps the lay person with uncomplicated legal needs like wills, trusts, divorces and the like. It was expensive—$435! Luckily, one of the Board member’s moms agreed to donate $435 to get us started. But then, when Chelsea went back to "We The People" to finish filling out the paperwork, the owner agreed to reduce the cost to $230. We also had to spend $30 to register the name with the California Secretary of State, bringing our costs to $260 so far. They needed an adult signature, so I went along and signed the papers since I’m only one who is 18 years old.

Once we get our non-profit status, we’ll open a bank account at Hawthorne Savings.

But meanwhile, we are making a lot of progress. All these kids are pretty amazing and they come up with such wonderful ideas. We have a telephone number and free xeroxing for fliers, thanks to Lauren Cowen, 16, a junior at Concord. Martine McDonald, 16, a junior at Santa Monica High School, designed artwork for the logo and drop boxes for businesses and retail outlets. Concord High students Scott Russo, 16, a junior and Bailey Gallison, 15, a sophomore, collaborated on the Web site design and layout. Scott, a master at computer software, found a free site to list the organization and started a database for donors and community service participants. Eric Teasly, 16, a junior at Harvard Westlake, came up with our slogan, "Generosity of the sole."

Santa Monica High students Lexi Guiner, 16, a junior, and Mike Dickey, 15, a sophomore, are in charge of school communications and creating enthusiasm and participation in student governments and key clubs. Lauren Cowen will contact sports teams, both collegiate and professional, to see if they would like to get involved. Steven Miller, 16, a junior at Santa Monica High School will handle drop boxes at retail outlets. Brywn Cohen, 16, a junior at Concord and Martine McDonald are trying to find celebrities who might like to adopt our cause. I wrote our mission statement and have been working on this article.

We’re starting with dress shoes

So far, we are planning two big shoe drives, one in December called the "Cinderella Project" for dress shoes, and a June athletic shoe project called "These Shoes Are Made For Walkin’." Each pair of shoes will carry a postcard/tag so the recipient can write back to the donor, with a thank you and a note about how the shoes will be used. We’re planning to code these postcards and return each one to the original donor so that they can see what happened to their shoes. "Teens need to say thank you. Appreciation and acknowledgment is the key," said Chelsea.

Shoe collection has begun at Concord High School, and other private schools, banks and businesses in the Santa Monica area. We’ve gotten a lot of support at Concord, a private school in Santa Monica, since that is where Chelsea and I attend, along with four other Board members. At Concord, we collected more than 100 pairs of shoes and $31. When we collected shoes at Concord, Chelsea said she was totally surprised when her Latin teacher Chris Hudson, a teacher who is very strict and to-the-point, went out and bought a black pair of men’s Prada shoes to donate. "Someone is going to feel like a prince in those shoes!" said Chelsea.

One of Concord’s math teachers said he would give students 10 extra points on their next math exam if they donated a pair of shoes. The art teacher offered to store shoes in the art studio for Concord’s distribution day. "The adult support has been overwhelming," said Chelsea.

After a piano player donated two pairs of crazy, three-inch red leather platform shoes, Chelsea decided to start a little shoe museum. Funny, unusual shoes like that could be displayed at school assemblies to help students get excited about donating shoes.

We haven’t figured out exactly how we’re going to give the shoes away, but we are in the process of finding donated space so teens can get the shoes they need. We plan to give the dress shoes away in December.

It’s great to be recognized for our contributions
Chelsea has tons of great ideas to keep us all motivated. Each meeting starts with a pep talk, and whoever has made a big contribution gets picked for special recognition. Chelsea gives each one a "hand"—a small hand made of red clay to show appreciation. In between meetings, we can check a special internal Web site to see what is going on. "We all feel good about ourselves working as a team on this idea. I hope this becomes a model for teens in other cities to create charities that make a difference to our own age group," said Chelsea.

Chelsea has even bigger dreams. She intends to get a large shoe manufacturing company like Nike, New Balance or Reebok to underwrite the advertising and drop boxes in retail shoe outlets for used or discarded shoes. She hopes for publicity on Oprah and local media outlets. "Ever since Columbine, people think we are going to snap at any moment and blow people away. We want to create a new image of teenagers—one of compassion and of taking responsibility for solving problems."