Helping to walk in the footsteps of a student | News, Sports, Jobs


When school rolls around in August, UnityPoint Health – Fort Dodge and Athletes For Education and Success work together to make sure sixth graders in the community have a new pair of shoes to walk the halls.

The two local organizations have teamed up to donate shoes to new sixth-grade students for the 2022-2023 school year.

Shannon McQuillen, vice president of People Excellence at UnityPoint Health, said the hospital wanted to do something directly for students in the community in need.

“We have engagement meetings within our organization, and one of the goals is to find ways to help families and children within the community, McQuillen said. “We wanted to do something back to school themed. We run a school supply drive, which helps, but doesn’t have a direct impact on the children, so it’s great to be able to meet the needs of specific children.

The “New Shoes Back to School Program” is in place for students entering sixth grade at Fort Dodge Middle School, St. Edmond Catholic School, Community Christian, and St. Paul Lutheran School who qualify for the free or reduced school lunch program.

“No. 1, we want students to have a reliable pair of shoes,” said Charles Clayton, Executive Director of AFES.Lots of kids are stressed out because they don’t have a pair of shoes. Upon entering middle school, children begin to pay attention to fashion. So it will be good for kids to walk down the halls with a new pair to boost their confidence.

Qualified families must register by July 1. To register as a business supporter of the program, call (515) 574-6607 or visit the Fort Dodge Community School District or AFES Facebook pages.

“Kids wear shoes every day, and when school starts, kids like to have new shoes and outfits for the first day of school,” McQuillen said. “Leah Glasgow (President and CEO of UnityPoint Health Fort Dodge) and I met with Charles Clayton to develop a plan for a successful first year.

McQuillen said the plan is to expand the program and hopefully add more ratings as they continue to receive community support.

“This first year we wanted to focus on one level and hopefully make it big enough that we could eventually provide shoes for sixth, seventh and eighth graders,” McQuillen said. “We also want to have an impact beyond Fort Dodge.

“We want to involve the community and businesses. We know they are passionate about children. When we launched this, I had a great engagement with the companies. They wanted to board right away.

The plan for the program is to have all families registered by next Friday. Anonymous tags will be created for students similar to the Donation Tree, with the specified height and gender. Local businesses will then receive the labels.

“We will distribute the tags to the company, and they will purchase the shoes as part of engagement activities within their company or organization. We will deliver the tags on July 11. The companies will return the shoes to us. here on August 8th.

“With AFES, shoes will be grouped by size and gender. If companies want to reach out, they can contact me at (515) 574-6511.”

Clayton’s AFES Group, which has also taken over Operation Christmas in recent years, always takes the opportunity to give back to the community.

“I think it’s a great idea because so many kids need it,” Clayton said. “Families and students shouldn’t have to worry about buying shoes when they have so many other things to worry about. With the price of gas and food, this can reduce parent stress.

“We want to grow that, and I’d like to get to the point of giving on multiple levels. It’s a great example of community partnership and shows that Fort Dodge really cares.

Kingsgate Insurance was one of the first companies to come on board.

“We wanted to help for several reasons. Firstly, I have children in the school system around the same age and being close to the age range of that group, it has generated a lot of interest,” said Ryan Smith, chairman of Kingsgate Insurance. “I’ve known Charles for a long time…he was actually one of my coaches. He has always been very active in the community.

“It’s a chance to do something for all the right reasons.”

Smith, a Fort Dodge native and current resident, said his team likes to give back.

“We grew up here…my dad started his business a few years after he came to the community,” Smith said. “We had a humble start.

“Our team is incredibly generous when helping families over the Christmas period, so we thought this would be a perfect fit.”

CJ Bio America also jumped on board this year and will contribute to the program.

“This is a great opportunity for local businesses to help those in need,” said Luke Palmer, ESG director at CJ Bio America and another local native. “It really fits the mission of our company. We want to support the community that supports us.

“There were 20 kids in my class at Otho (primary school) and then I went to South Junior High. It’s pretty hard to be nervous and scared to meet new kids… I can’t imagine how hard it would be not to have a good pair of shoes. As simple and small as it may seem, it gives children confidence and prevents them from worrying.

“In our opinion, if we can help, we must help.”

As the program expands, McQuillen would like companies to enroll throughout the fall, winter and spring for the 2023-24 academic year.

“We would like businesses to continue to sign up as we plan and hope to grow,” McQuillen said. “There is a huge need for shoes at this age in our community.

“I feel that in these years to come we will have something special and we want to see it grow.”

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