So one day Jack Wathen was sitting on his bed looking at the floor of his closet.
The Pleasant Valley High School senior has been competing in soccer and track throughout his school years. He had compiled quite a collection of sneakers, all of which were accumulating on his closet floor. He began to wonder if maybe there were people who could use some worn but still-in-good-condition shoes.
He began searching online. One organization appealed to him. It was called, Soles4Souls, a global not-for-profit organization dedicated to fighting the devastating impact and perpetuation of poverty. It collects new and used shoes and clothes then distributes them by direct donations to people in need and by provisioning qualified microenterprise programs designed to create jobs in poor and disadvantaged communities. Soles4Souls has distributed more than 19 million pairs of shoes around the world with the help of partners. With one in every four adults in the world living in extreme poverty, basic necessities like shoes aren't always available. In developing nations like Haiti, Honduras, and Tanzania, walking is the main form of transportation, and shoes can protect a person's feet from cuts and infections. Also, children in other parts of the world cannot attend school without a pair of shoes. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Soles4Souls is committed to the highest standards of operating and governance, and holds a four-star rating with Charity Navigator. .
Jack liked Soles4Souls because it accepted shoes in any condition and by donating his shoes, it would help him feel like he was making an impact on others. He thought about how a lot of his friends were also involved in sports and had shoes they no longer wore and wondered maybe if they would be interested in donating some of them.
Jack's AP Government class, taught by Tim McCutchan, held a Mock Congress. The students make laws and then decide whether or not to pass them. The bills have to be about making a difference and spreading hope to others.
Jack had prepared a bill about a shoe drive for Soles4Souls. It was his goal to collect 1,000 pairs of shoes in a month. Unfortunately, or ironically, his bill was presented on a day he was absent because he was in Washington D.C. His bill did not pass.
His teacher, Mr. McCutchan had told his students that if anyone believed in their bill and was committed to it, they could come to a Student Government Association (SGA) meeting and they could possibly make it happen.
Jack did just that and received the OK to begin his shoe drive, sponsored by the SGA. To get the word out, Jack put up posters around the school, makes daily school announcements and has placed drop-off bins all around the high school and in the other schools.
Just before the Mock Congress was held, there was a new phenomenon taking place in the Pleasant Valley School District. It is called the Hope Initiative, started by a few teachers and students to promote positivity, and hope. It is spreading like wildfire and the students and staff, districtwide are working toward a more positive environment in the schools and the community.
Jack and McCutchan think it has helped with the shoe drive because Jack has collected over 500 pairs of shoes so far. He is hoping to reach his goal of 1,000 pairs by the end of May.
"I love it. I like the busyness of it. My friend, Mark Wasco and I check the bins every day. Mr. McCutchan and his wife, help pair them up. We pack them up in boxes," says Jack.
McCutchan says that Jack gives up his lunch hour every day to sort and pack up the shoes. He runs track, which is in season now, and a half-hour between the end of school and before track practice, he works on the shoes.
"He's intrinsically motivated to do this," says McCutchan.
Jack has played varsity soccer for four years and track the last three years. He is a member of SADD and the Civil Air Patrol. After graduation, he will be attending Penn State University on a ROTC scholarship. He's going to major in aerospace engineering and his dream is to become an Air Force pilot. He is the son of Patricia and John Wathen of Effort and has a younger brother, Casey, 17, a PVHS junior.
His advice for younger students is, "Become involved. If kids say they don't like school, I think it's because they don't become involved in anything. There's something for everyone, some kind of sports, organization or activity."
Jack has a favorite quote from Frank Ocean. It is, "We all know we have a finite period of time. I just feel that if I'm going to be alive - I want to be challenged - to be as immortal as possible. The path to that isn't an easy way, but it's a rewarding way." It's how Jack wants to live his life.
McCutchan and his wife, Francesca, have an 11-month old son, Nicholas.
"I would be so proud if my son becomes as a great a person as Jack is. Jack is one of those students that truly inspires me to be a better teacher," he says.
McCutchan believes Jack's efforts are an inspiration that will cause a ripple of hope "in our schools, community, nation, and the world. I know that Jack has made a difference in the world and I think it's an important lesson for students to learn that one person can make a difference. When I think of Jack and what he has done I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Robert Kennedy when he was visiting South Africa in the 1966. He said 'Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.' That is exactly what Jack has done. He has stood up to improve the lot of others and he has caused a ripple of hope. His ripple of hope is one that has inspired many teachers and students at PV and that ripple will keep the HOPE Initiative alive."
If you would like to help Jack reach his goal of 1,000 pairs of shoes by the end of May, drop your shoes off at any of the schools in the PV district or contact Mr. McCutchan at McCutchan. Tim@pvbears.org.