Jan. 25—Since 2016, Kentucky Wesleyan College has been using its Wesleyan Kicks program to provide athletic footwear to secondary students that are in need of new shoes.
Shawn Tomes, vice president of mission and culture at KWC, came up with the idea after working as a high school teacher and guidance counselor.
"I worked in public schools as an educator and a coach, and many times students don't have appropriate footwear to participate in sports or even physical education," he said.
After seeing that need on a regular basis, Tomes asked himself what KWC could do to be a good partner in the community and meet practical needs of students and families.
"We know how important what we wear is to us and others, and it's important when we can meet a need," he said.
While working in secondary education, Tomes said he would see students wearing winter boots during warm days or wearing sandals during colder months.
"Those are the kinds of things that impact you personally," he said. "It can impact a person's self-image, value and worth. Unfortunately peers can be cruel at times."
Being able to meet a need like shoes has an impact on the community in ways that are unseen, Tomes said.
His personal experiences and the students he was encountering are what led Tomes to begin Wesleyan Kicks.
"It initially began with a shoe drive with new or like-new donations, and it went very well," he said. "We just did it within the campus community."
But then it went further than just the KWC campus.
The Ray & Kay Eckstein Charitable Trust in Paducah provided three grants to Wesleyan Kicks, leading to a partnership with locally-owned Shoe Stop, located in Wesleyan Park Plaza.
"It was important for us to find a local partner," Tomes said. "We went to them and explained our vision of a partnership and they said they would work to find discounts to get us as many pairs of shoes as they could. They've been a tremendous partner."
To date, over 1,400 pairs of shoes have been distributed throughout the area, the majority coming from Shoe Stop.
"We have been able to every single school in Daviess County Public Schools and Owensboro Public Schools," Tomes said.
The relationship Wesleyan Kicks has with the DCPS and OPS family resource and youth service centers are vital to the operation.
"We are not in the business of being able to determine the need," Tomes said. "The FRYSC coordinators have relationships with students and families so this is a community partnership and they are critical in being able to get the schools shoes and having them distributed."
In the fall 2022 semester, 52 pairs of shoes were distributed to OPS students, and by May, a minimum of 100 more pairs will be provided to DCPS.
While the secondary schools are Wesleyan Kicks' primary focus, that does not limit who they provide footwear to.
"In the past, we have donated to specific needs that come up after we distribute to the schools," Tomes said. "We delivered shoes to Muhlenberg County Public Schools and to Mayfield after the 2021 tornadoes."
Tomes said they have also given to local shelters, and that they will continue to do so moving forward as resources allow.
"My favorite part of all of this is the fact that people are coming together to meet a need for someone they don't know, and probably never will," he said. "That doesn't impact the willingness to give."
Wesleyan Kicks exists because KWC wants to be able to serve others in the community, Tomes said.
"None of us know the students and families being impacted; we just feel called to do it," he said. "It's something bigger than any of us."
To donate to Wesleyan Kicks, visit kwc.edu/wesleyankicks or call Tomes at 270-999-2612.