by Lisa Reed, BISKINIK Editor
Starting the school year off on the right foot is more of a challenge for some students simply because of their economic situation. A group of individuals with the Choctaw Nation decided two years ago to boost the morale of students by holding fundraisers so young people on the Youth Outreach Program can enter the classroom wearing a new pair of shoes each August.
SOLEMATES is in its third year, and the shoe purchases are totally supported through donations. The first fundraiser is set for Friday, July 29th, with donations being accepted at locations across the Choctaw Nation. Volunteers will be at each of the Choctaw Travel Plazas and each of the Choctaw Casinos to accept any and all donations. Donation sites will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
The SOLEMATES volunteers have a list of the sizes and types of shoes needed by the 121 youth who are on the program, so they are ready to head to the store and buy footwear that is suited for each individual as soon as donations start coming in. “We start purchasing shoes and delivering them to the students during the two weeks following the fundraiser so they can have their shoes when school begins,” said Director Randy Hammons.
SOLEMATES workers hope to follow the past two years’ successful history and bring in enough donations that they can once again give donations of shoes to some of the needy children on other programs in the Choctaw Nation and in the community after serving the Outreach Program participants.
“We will accept monetary donations or new shoes of any size that can be worn year-round,” said Hammons. “Providing a pair of shoes to these students gives them a sense of pride – they love to wear a great new pair of tennis shoes into the classroom on the first day of school, and we love being able to assist them.”
“It is amazing how such a small thing as a single pair of shoes can bring a big smile to these kids,” said Chief Gregory E. Pyle. “This is an important effort that will improve the self-esteem of many of the young people to be able to wear brand-new, nice shoes that they could not otherwise afford. It touches my heart to know that people will join us in contributing to this worthy cause.”
A second round of fundraising for SOLEMATES will take place at the Tribal Headquarters in Durant and at the Choctaw Nation Hospital in Talihina on Monday, Aug. 8.
If a Choctaw family in the 10 ½-county area of the Choctaw Nation thinks they qualify for the Outreach Program, they may call 580-326-8304 or 877-285-6893.