Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Teen Launches New Shoes Program

Courtney Parker traveled to 14 Baldwin County elementary campuses in Alabama during the 2008-09 school term to distribute new shoes to kindergartners through her newly created "Running Start" program.

The project's goal is to distribute new footwear to low-income kindergarten students.

"I had this wonderful feeling inside, like what we were doing was really going to make a difference in people's lives. That was when it hit me that our concept, 'Running Start Shoes,' had actually become a reality. It was a great day," she said.

Parker decided to call her concept "Running Start Shoes," and with the help of her mother, local psychiatrist Dr. Sandra Parker, she pitched the idea to Paul Wilson, the World Outreach Division president for the Soles4Souls.

Wilson, an Alabama native who divides his time between Alabama and Tennessee, loved the idea and immediately volunteered to help.

"Courtney's initiative was a model for what our organization does," Wilson said. "She identified a local need, and we were glad to come along and work beside her. That's what we do here, we give shoes to those around the corner and around the world."

In May, with the help of Soles4Souls, community sponsors and the Baldwin County school system, Parker's project finally came to fruition when she delivered nearly 100 shoes to kindergartners at the Baldwin County elementary schools.

Parker's plans don't stop with Baldwin County, however. She plans to expand the program, and has already contacted state education officials and her local legislators, many of whom are eager to help, she said.

"It's programs like Courtney's that begin at the community levels that truly make a difference," said Rep. Jamie Ison, R-Mobile. "I'd love to see 'Running Start Shoes' become a statewide campaign, and I've already made a pitch on her behalf at the State Department of Education to help distribute information about her initiative to local entities."

And, while Parker would also like to see the program expand, for right now, she said she's just happy knowing that she's helped scores of Baldwin County's youngest learners feel a little more confident during their first days of school.

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