Changing Lives One Step at a Time - By: By Jeanne Nealon, Laces of Love co-founder and president

January 30th, 2017

In 1981, I was a young middle school teacher in Naples. One day, I drove a student home to a migrant camp. He was wearing the worst pair of shoes I’d ever seen. What’s more, they didn’t fit the boy. “Oh Miss, I share with my brother,” he said to me, his face flushing with embarrassment.

That experience changed my life. I realized kids in our community share shoes. Raised by our parents to believe that the true meaning of love is giving, my sister, Mary Myrmo, and I took action. We began collecting new shoes and delivering them to low-income needy kids at local schools. We have never stopped since. Laces of Love was born.

We helped a girl at a local school who was cited three times by the administration for wearing big floppy slippers to school. Her teacher told me, “She’s a great kid. There has to be a reason.” When the Resource Officer went to her home, he saw she lived in a broken-down trailer. The family had nothing.

A high school boy wore different color shoes each day. Was he really that rich?  Far from it. He was borrowing shoes from friends, and had to give each pair back. He had no shoes. After this teenager received new shoes from Laces of Love, he wanted to meet me. Alejandro, six foot five, bent down to kiss me, crying.

Quietly and anonymously, Laces of Love has been giving shoes to clients at David Lawrence Center for years. Counselors make us aware of the children’s needs.

Recently Sand Barre, the local fitness studio, celebrated its one-year opening with a benefit for Laces of Love. They asked all clients to donate a new pair of tennis shoes. After the event, Coach Nino, whom I met at the celebration, called me with a request.

Coach Nino leads fitness classes at David Lawrence Center with children, teens and adults in the inpatient and residential treatment programs. He told me, “Many clients don’t own the proper shoes to participate in the class. They can’t have shoes with laces. And they can’t jump or run in flip flops.”

My board was happy to approve a gift of 30 pairs of slip-on Velcro shoes for the children and adults in the inpatient Crisis Stabilization Unit. I’m honored and blessed that Laces of Love can help in this way. I know that being physically active helps people with mental illness and addiction issues move toward recovery.

For a client at DLC, a pair of shoes that lets them exercise can change their heart — they see that someone cared about them. That might be the best moment of their day. With the right shoes, maybe they can start running track, and learning how to care for their body. Above all, there is the deeply healing knowledge that someone loves them enough to give them this gift.

It may seem like you’re giving shoes, but with every step, you’re changing lives.

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