Sebastopol PE teacher donates shoes to kids

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With school swinging back into session, a Sonoma County teacher is making sure students have the shoes to get in the game.

"Hey, do I have shoes for you? What's your name?" calls out Myriah Volk, founder of a non-profit called Shoes 4 Kidz.

Friday evening, Volk was at Brookhaven School in Sebastopol, shoes spread out on a table as kids played basketball and romped in a bouncy house.

"People call me the shoe fairy," Volk told KTVU, "if you need shoes, you get shoes, no stigma."

The first to arrive was nine year old Gabriel Boaz, who needed a little help tying his brand new Nikes, but had no trouble scampering across the playground in them.

The shoes he took off had a hole, a broken strap, and no tread left on the bottom.

His new ones are just what he needed.

"The only other shoes I have at home, they just don't fit me yet," Gabe told KTVU, "until I get a bit older."

Many kids who come to Volk are wearing hand-me-down shoes, or shoes not meant for sports.

As a K-8 physical education teacher, her effort was inspired by one of her own students more than a year ago.

"A fifth grade boy came to the mile run, with a sole completely hanging off his shoe, so I had to tape it on so he could run," recalled Volk.

She realized that about half her students were in substandard footwear, and launched a fund-raiser that became an ongoing effort to provide athletic shoes to kids across Sonoma County.

During the school year, she hears from other teachers. All summer, she's been dropping in at an evening youth program.

"I think what she's doing is completely awesome," Sebastopol Police Officer Salvador Villaneuva told KTVU.

Villaneuva oversees the Midnight Sports Program.

"It's such a confidence booster for the kids, it's a game changer for them," he added, "and when they're active in sports, they stay away from negative influences."

The shoes are purchased at a discount from local stores.

"I just said, 'can I have some shoes?' and she brought me these blue ones," exclaimed 12 year old Diego Ramirez, " and they're free, it's awesome!"

Diego admits it would be a stretch for his parents to spring for the Champion sneakers.

"They go, 'Oh I can't buy you these, oh honey no,'" he smiled.

Volk shops for each child, selecting the suitable size and style.

"You like the shoes but not the color?" she quizzed one girl, trying on a new pair.

"Okay, those are nice, but not for you," she agrees.

Sometimes it's takes two tries, but usually the shoes are perfect and so are the smiles.

"I'm really happy, it's really nice," mom Elia Mendez told KTVU as her daughter Arianna beamed in a pair of gray Nikes.

"It's helping me put her back to school, and I'm a single mom, so it's really hard to save up money."

And the difference shoes make, is more than physical. Volk still remembers that first student with the tattered sole.

"In PE, he wouldn't move much, he wouldn't participate, he'd hang his head when it was time to run," she recalled.

"But in his new shoes, he ran faster, tried harder, had more confidence, it changed him. And he's not the only one. I've seen a difference in a lot of kids."

And that's what keeps the shoe fairy going.

"Looks like you've got pretty good shoes right now," she tells one girl, "so when you're done with those and you need some, you come find me, okay?"

Shoes 4 Kidz has given away more than three hundred pair so far, and now that school has started, Volk will hear from other PE teachers with students in need.

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