Archive for July, 2010
Stan’s Fit For Your Fit is one of the largest contributor of gently used shoes to Soles4Souls. Last February alone, they collected 33,000 pairs of shoes! We spent the afternoon talking to customers and encouraging them to bring their gently used shoes to Stan’s. Then Soles4Souls will get those shoes to people in need around the world.
I remember giving away shoes to a group of young adults who had been in foster care all their life. At 18, they “age out” of the system and end up on their own, often without the skills and resources needed to live independently. One boy came up to me and said, “I just got my first job and need steel toed shoes, which I can’t afford. Do you happen to have any steel toed boots?” I excitedly gave him a pair of just the boots he needed. Thanks to HyTest Safety Footwear, we’ve been able to provide sturdy boots to people across the US. How fun to meet people face to face that help contribute to Soles4Souls!
Want a lesson in customer service? Spend some time with the staff at Thor Motorized Services in Elkhart, Indiana. That’s the company that “created” the Soles4Souls RV. Of course they built it without the bright blue wrap and numerous logos!
Because we give tours of the RV as we represent the shoe charity, our carpet was looking a bit worn. (Imagine having 100 or so people walk back and forth on your hall carpet every week.)
Thor graciously offered to install new carpet. This was a great relief, since Allan had been talking about possibly replacing it himself! Janae Kurtz and Jim Whitehead bent over backward to help us in any way they could. They arranged for us to have a rental car and hotel, in addition to checking out any additional repairs the RV might need. The staff found a leak from the driver’s window and immediately replaced the side wall and ordered us a new window. They didn’t overlook minor details either. We had lost a tiny bolt cover for the windshield wipers. Allan improvised by painting the bolt black. After our visit to Four Winds, we have the real deal.
Throughout our 4 day stay, I found more and more positive examples I could use when I do customer service workshops. To top it off, we’re coming back in October to do a shoe distribution in Elkhart. In the meantime, the employees at Thor will be bringing in their gently used shoes to donate to Soles4Souls!
I found this article Sondra wrote when she was 14. It ended up being published in one of the Chicken Soup books, describing an experience she had in Africa.
I was a normal kid that only listened half heartedly as my parents told me I should be thankful for what I had. My friends were girls that had the same interest in soccer and school that I did. We all tried to act like individuals, but lets face it…we wore the same style jeans and sweatshirts. Things changed when I got the opportunity to go to Africa. After the 21 hour flight, we arrived at our destination; Bugala island in the middle of Lake Victoria. The eight mile long island had only one rutted road. People lived in cow dung huts without running water or electricity. I don’t even want to describe what the toilets looked like!
While on Bugala Island, I got the chance to meet the girl I sponsor named Annette. Annette’s parents and relatives had died of Aids. Because our family paid $30.00 a month to Childcare International, a Christian relief agency, Annette was able to live in a group home and go to school. For the past several months, we had been writing letters back and forth. I made sure not to write about our house, my closet full of clothes or the trips we took. Here was a girl my own age that owned only two dresses and one pair of flip flops. Before we left, my mom and I thought about buying Annette a backpack. I’m glad we didn’t because I soon saw she had nothing to put in it! No stuffed animals, no boxes of markers, no books.
When I first met Annette, I had on my favorite khaki shorts, not knowing that most girls in Uganda seldom wear shorts or pants. She hugged me cautiously. After all, she had never seen a Caucasian kid! Within five minutes of meeting, Annette disappeared for a few minutes. She returned wearing a faded pair of shorts…trying to look like me. Annette spoke English fairly well so we could talk. I panicked. How could I talk and be friends with someone who had never seen water coming out of a faucet?
Surprisingly, it didn’t take long to form a friendship. She showed me the room she shared with twenty other orphan girls. (Who by now were all wearing shorts also.) Annette taught me their jump rope games. We played the drums together and did craft projects I brought along. Many of the kids at the group home didn’t know how to take the caps off of markers to draw pictures! I found myself having fun with Annette even though she had never seen a video or eaten at McDonald’s.
On the last night at the group home, the 120 kids planned a celebration for me. Since they didn’t have crepe paper streamers, they twisted toilet paper along the walls. Annette, (still wearing shorts) led the group in singing and dancing. The dancing consisted of small shakes of the hips back and forth so their grass skirts swooshed and you saw a blur of color. The children invited me to join in their dance. Three years of ballet lessons could have never prepared me for what was to come. Trying to mimic their dance, I fell short and resorted to my pre-school years of twirling and waving my body wildly to the beating of the drums and chanting of the children. They laughed hysterically at my African dance attempt.
After the dancing and singing, the director announced a special treat: A frosted cake! He brought out a homemade typical one layer, 8 inch cake. Annette and I cut the cake and the 120 kids excitedly waited for the rare treat of sweet cake. (The group home cook made meals over an open fire, so a baked cake was a real treat.) I figured the Costco sized huge sheet cakes were on another table. After all, we had to serve over one hundred kids. Instead, Annette cut the 8 inch cake in smaller and smaller pieces. These were really small pieces! I then went around and passed out the cake pieces, which each child picked up with their fingers. Every child smiled at me as they ate their miniature-marshmallow size piece of cake. No one asked for seconds and no one tried to sneak two pieces. They were simply happy with what they had. Annette made sure I had a piece of cake also.
The next day, while leaving the island, I thought back on that cake. In the United States, my friends would have complained about the tiny piece of cake. “We want a bigger piece! Where’s the ice cream?” I found myself happily eating a few cake crumbs next to Annette. It wasn’t about the sugar rush, it wasn’t about the frosting. It was about the friendship.
A reporter from the Christian Science Monitor contacted me to ask if I thought kids today were over protected. Here are a few comments I gave her.
About 20 years ago, I directed day camps and worked with thousands of kids. Young campers would jump in creeks, go off rope swings, ride their bikes over homemade jumps and not be afraid to get dirty. Now kids complain if they get a dab of paint on their hands while painting a picture. Last month, I had a 10-year-old tell me he’s never used a hammer because his parents think it’s dangerous. In fact, I’ve had parents visit our house before letting their kids come over because they think our rope pulley, pond and two huge sheep are too dangerous. In my parenting sessions, I encourage parents to let kids take risks. If you’re at the airport, going on vacation, let your 11-year-old find the right gate, hand tickets to the agent and find the security line. If Grandma sends your son an ugly sweater, let him talk to the store clerk about making an exchange. Encourage kids to build forts and make their own skateboards. The creativity and self confidence they gain are worth more than any educational video game.
For years, our family attended a mega-church in Bellingham, complete with a charasmatic minister, lively music, top-notch sermons and of course, the occasional fog machine. As Allan and I travel for Soles4Souls, we seek out larger churches to attend each Sunday. (Partly because they have larger parking lots so the RV can get in and out!)
Saturday night a pastor knocked on our RV door at the campground and invited us to a church servive in the rec center in 30 minutes. Why not? We joined two other couples in the rec room adorned with stuffed deer heads mounted on the wall. Let’s not forget the large wastebasket in the center of the room to catch dripping water from the air conditioning unit. Throughout the entire “service”, the water hit plastic bottles in the wastebasket, producing the sound of popping popcorn.
The pastor has been holding services at this campground (owned by a Hindu family) for 14 years, so I really admire his dedication. Throughout the service, all I could think was, “I’m so glad Sondra isn’t here, because one glance at her would send me into a fit of laughter.” The well-meaning pastor introduced us to a young worship leader who couldn’t sing or lead worship. One of the couples asked to sing Amazing Grace, but the worship leader had never heard that song. He proceeded to lead us in singing Amazing Grace to the tune of Row Row Row Your Boat and Jungle Bells (at the same time.) This was followed by his solo rendition of How Great Thou Art. Agaian, he had never heard the song and couldn’t read music, so he made up the tune to this well-known hymn. With each verse, I bit my lip harder and harder not to laugh. He meant well, but with the deer looking down on us, popcorn sounds and the “obscure” music, I wanted to laugh at the absudity of it all. I’ll spare the details of the pastor leading a disjointed, dull and dry explanation of a few Bible verses…for an entire hour!
We’re constantly amazed at how diverse our country is. While staying at a campground in Indiana, we came across huge sand dunes next to Lake Michigan. Not only is the sand burning hot, it’s almost impossible to walk up the sand mountains, (ok, sand dunes) especially in the humid weather. We pretended we were crossing the Sahara desert and took a long hike. Coming back, we both had all the classic signs of heat exhaustion. So my word of advice is: Don’t climb sand dunes at noon when the temperature is 95 degrees with 89% humidity.
While many of you had picnics and celebrations in parks on the 4th of July, we celebrated in a “Marshalling Station” in Chicago. This was an undiscovered place to stay with the RV and still be close to downtown. Granted, the train tracks were 100 feet away, but I pretended I was in Europe. A nine story deserted building sat next to the train tracks. This added to our evening entertainment as we watched homeless people sneak into the building at night. And then of course, the 53 foot trucks constantly pulled in and out of the area. Allan barbequed by putting his small barbeque on the back of a flat bed truck. Then we put together a steak dinner and gave it to the security guard who had to work all night.Ahhh this is America! Since I became a naturalized citizen when I was 12, 4th of July is always a special day for me.