Dressed for Success: My New Red Shoes helps kids prepare for school by building their confidence

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My New Red Shoes raises the confidence of thousands of homeless and very-low income children as they start the school year across four counties in California’s Bay Area. How? By providing them with a new pair of shoes, $50 gift card for new school clothes shopping, a little “something special” (like a school supply) and a handwritten letter from a volunteer all in a hand-sewn gift bag.  The new clothes they buy themselves help these kids feel like they fit in with their classmates. This simple gift gives homeless children the boost they need to start the school year confident and ready to learn.

In 2011, My New Red Shoes will celebrate its fifth birthday. Like most big hearted projects, this one began simply: one mother reminiscing with her daughter, Heather M. Hopkins, Founder of My New Red Shoes. Heather’s mother shared how difficult it was for her when she would start a new school year in old clothes. Perhaps it was because Heather was a new mother herself, but she couldn’t shake the story. She knew she had to do something. So in 2006, Heather started a project in her garage. With the help of a few friends, Heather gifted 354 children with a new pair of shoes on their first day of school.

Since that time, My New Red Shoes has experienced enormous growth and attention. Last year, the non-profit served 2952 children in the four counties, a 90% growth since it began in 2006! Executive Director Jennifer Yeagley believes that the success is due in part that helping out is a family affair. “We provide a family fun culture in everything that we do.” For instance, My New Red Shoes raised $50,000 at their fashion show last year with ticket sales, sponsorship, and a silent auction. The event is popular with everyone: kids love modeling the clothes and parents enjoy seeing their children on the runway.

My New Red Shoes also provides volunteer opportunities for families as they believe it’s important for kids and parents to work together. The family teams sew handmade gift bags for recipients at sewing parties. They write handwritten notes together to include in the gift bags, fostering thoughtfulness every step of the way. Another opportunity is “Pack for Pride” where volunteers assemble the bags. Finally, everyone is invited to back to school distribution parties to help give the bags out and meet the recipients. The volunteer community is strong and continues to grow from ninety-four in 2006 to over one thousand in 2010. Besides valued family volunteers, schools, community groups and corporations pitch in as well.

The simple gift of shoes and clothing resonates with people who feel much the same way that Heather felt when she heard her mother’s story. “We can’t change the world, but we can do this small thing,” shares Jennifer Yeagley. “What we’ve found over the years form parents and kids, is that this gift is so powerful that it leads to an improved quality of life even though the family is going through turmoil.” Every child who receives a gift bag writes a note about how this will impact them, so the organization hears directly from the kids themselves.

My New Red Shoes uses online fundraising practically, thoughtfully, and successfully. Last year, they used DoJiggy online fundraising software to raise $26,000 with their “Walk in Their Shoes” 5k walk. Participants wore red shoe covers over their sneakers to create a visually compelling statement and raise community awareness. The organization is on Facebook, maintains a blog on their website, and sends out a monthly e-newsletter. Their website includes a beautifully assembled 2010 annual report, helpful for funding agencies. Next steps include boosting blog content and shaping dialog as a resource for involving the community beyond their organization and broader issues of homelessness and children.