MOUNT VERNON — When two seventh graders at Mount Vernon Middle School decided to help a friend in need, they were simply trying to make his day. Now, less than a year later, the duo, now eighth graders, run a program through the Knox County Foundation (formerly Community Foundation) to help other students in need.
Mack Hanna and Tysen Henry were sitting in their seventh grade math class last February when Henry found a pair of shoes online that featured Nintendo characters. They both immediately thought of their friend who had been going through a rough time and whose shoes, they noticed, were starting to fall apart.
The Nintendo shoes cost $80 — far to much money for the two to scrounge up on their own, so they took the idea to their English teacher Chris Kane. Kane helped them set up a GoFundMe campaign to purchase the shoes. They asked for just enough money to get the shoes, and then Mr. Kane shared it with his Facebook friends.
They didn’t give the campaign much thought for the next 48 hours. In fact, Hanna didn’t even tell his parents about the charitable endeavor. But when they looked at the campaign two days later they were shocked, Hanna said. Within 48 hours, the campaign had raised $1,300.
“It was crazy,” Hanna said.
Hanna and Henry, with the help of Mr. Kane decided to buy the shoes as planned. The extra money was donated to that same friend’s family, according to Hanna.
After the success of the GoFundMe, and once Hanna finally told his parents about it, his dad encouraged him to think bigger — to make it something that could continue to spread good. Healthy Soles, as they decided to call it, was formed into a Donor Advised Fund with the Knox County Foundation. The first $500 donation that allowed them to start the fund came from the mother of the student who received the first pair of shoes, Hanna said.
From there, Hanna’s father created a Facebook page for Healthy Soles and word has continued to spread. The fund now sits at around $5,500 according to Hanna. In a flier for Healthy Soles, the goal of establishing an initial $10,000 for the fund is laid out with the idea that students will be nominated by a classmate or teacher, to then be approved by a “14 person oversight committee made up of teachers and students.” The fund will use only investment proceeds to purchase shoes for students. With a 6.5 percent return on $10,000, according to the flier, Healthy Soles would be able to provide eight to 10 pairs of shoes for students annually. An agreement with the athletic department of Mount Vernon Nazarene University, which came about as word of the fund spread, also allows Healthy Soles to buy Adidas shoes at a discounted price using the athletic department’s discount code, Paul McNeal, the athletic department coordinator of development, explained.
“The athletic department has tried to not just be in the community but to be part of it too,” McNeal said. “When I heard about [Healthy Soles], with the MVNUnited initiative, I knew it would be something the athletic department would love to be part of.”
Looking toward the future, Hanna said he would like to see Healthy Soles become a bigger movement. He hopes to bring Healthy Soles to Mount Vernon district elementary schools and to the high school. Hanna said he has been speaking with others who would like to see Healthy Soles spread to the Fredericktown school district as well, something he said will likely happen in the near future.
For now, Healthy Soles is continuing to bring some good to students at MVMS. This year, Healthy Soles has already purchased two pairs of shoes for students in need at the middle school with the help of Mr. Kane and Erin Gottke, who is an English teacher at the middle school, Hanna said.
Hanna explained that he’ll often discretely look at his peer’s shoes to make sure they are “wearable for the time of the year.” Nominated student names are then passed on to Gottke who will pull approved nominated students in to her room to order a pair of shoes online, under $90, that they like. When the shoes arrive, Hanna and Henry accompany Gottke or Kane to pull the student out of class briefly to give them their shoes, which they can then put in their locker.
“[One student we bought shoes for], he was just smiling all day for the next two weeks,” Hanna said. “And every time he saw me, he would say ‘hi’ to me. [Another student] we bought shoes for, he brought in his sixth grade team shirt to Mrs. Gottke, and he said ‘I want to give this to one of the kids in sixth grade that might not have the money to buy this shirt.’ And my dad was like ‘that’s what we wanted to do. That was the goal,’ to start spreading positivity.”
For more information about Healthy Soles and how to donate, visit Healthy Soles on Facebook. Donations to Healthy Soles can also be made directly to the Knox County Foundation.