Jenette Jurczyk, Guest Blog Writer
“What if you could change the world for someone? Would you? You can. And when you do, the world changes for you.” These are the words of Mona Purdy, founder of the Share Your Soles Foundation, which has been distributing shoes to impoverished communities around the world for almost 21 years.
In 2012, I was part of a team that was tasked with launching the annual Shoe Drive as part of the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon race weekend. It began as a small committee project through the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana and has grown and evolved over the past seven years.
My name is Jenette Jurczyk, and I am the National Director of The She Said Project. We are an organization devoted to empowering women through live storytelling events, teen programs, a podcast, and more. I see running the annual shoe drive as a way to give back and connect with an extraordinary community of runners and do-gooders who believe they can accomplish amazing things when they set their mind to it. Most of the shoes collected over marathon weekend have been sorted, cleaned, and given to local agencies to share with the clients they serve.
But in 2016, I had the humbling experience of taking shoes with me on a mission trip to Haiti, volunteering with a She Said: Soul Journey team at God’s Littlest Angels Orphanage. I saw first-hand how a new or gently-worn pair of shoes could change the life of someone who has had a life of struggle and strife. From a widow working as a cook to support her family who live in a house resembling little more than a tent, to children I saw playing barefoot in a field strewn with garbage in between begging strangers for food.
When I got home from that trip, I felt almost guilty about the dozens of pairs of shoes strewn across my daughters’ closet floors, many of which they barely wore. I started to research and discover more about the need for shoes, not just here in our community and in our country, but in villages and communities around the world. I read stories of entire families that shared a single pair of shoes and children who get sick because they have nothing to protect their feet.
These stories pulled at my heart, as stories often do. That is, after all, what I do—help women and girls share their personal stories to empower themselves and others. I started to wonder about the stories surrounding each pair of shoes in my closet… the places they had been, the experiences I had while wearing them. But then I thought about the story that pair of shoes could tell if I somehow got them onto the feet of a woman halfway around the world who walks miles a day to feed her family but has never owned a pair of shoes. And The Shoe Said Project was born.
As The She Said Project grows into more communities, we are producing more live events called “That’s What She Said.” What if, I wondered, we collected shoes at every live event as well? That’s when I reached out to Mona Purdy and the Share Your Soles Foundation. I learned about her story and how she got her inspiration to bring shoes to villages in South and Central America and Africa. And how great the need still is. So, we developed a partnership to help share more stories and expand our impact.
We are honored to be a part of the Illinois Marathon weekend. We believe in the power of sharing stories. Each runner has amazing stories of struggle and triumph, failure and victory. We are here to celebrate each one of those stories. And once the race is run, we hope participants will consider donating their gently-worn shoes to The Shoe Said Project and help us continue the story and have a global impact. We will have a booth at the health and fitness expo on Thursday and Friday of race weekend. Learn more: https://illinoismarathon.com/get-involved/shoedrive/
Since the creation of Share Your Soles Foundation, almost 21 years ago, they have distributed over 3.5 million pairs of shoes in 40 locations around the world, including the US.
Now, The Shoe Said Project is continuing to support that mission each year at the Illinois Marathon. We thank you for your support.
Jenette Jurczyk is the National Director of The She Said Project, the organization that runs the Shoe Drive at the Illinois Marathon Race Weekend. She is devoted to raising women’s voices through the power of storytelling and does so by producing and directing live events called “That’s What She Said,” a teen empowerment program called “That’s What Teens Say,” and co-hosting The She Said Project Podcast, supported by NPR.