Community service is a priority for the University of Central Arkansas Athletic Department, and the Bears and Sugar Bears have found a more than willing partner in an international organization named Samaritan’s Feet.
For the past three years, UCA’s student-athletes have partnered with Samaritan’s Feet for “Shoes of Hope” events, where money is raised and shoes are distributed to needy children in the region.
Various UCA coaching staffs, including volleyball, basketball and softball, have coached games barefoot in support of the cause. In the past 11 years, more than 3,000 coaches at the college and high school levels have coached or made public appearances barefoot to raise awareness for the initiative.
Student-athletes representing all 17 of UCA’s athletic teams have participated in the shoe distribution events in Conway in conjunction with Samaritan’s Feet and True Holiness Saints Center throughout the past two years.
Dr. Brad Teague, UCA director of athletics, said the projects under Samaritan’s Feet have been a true blessing to the Athletic Department and UCA student-athletes.
“Part of our mission statement for UCA athletics is a well-rounded, student-athlete experience,” said Teague. “There is no better way to accomplish that than through community service. Our partnership with Samaritan’s Feet has been highly beneficial to both their outstanding, worldwide organization and to our student-athlete community.”
The shoe events are the epitome of what giving back to the community is all about.
“When you see 18- to 22-year olds sitting down and talking with these young people, washing their feet and then putting a brand new pair of socks and shoes on their feet… it really is a rewarding thing to witness,” said Teague.
The mission of Shoes of Hope, as in all of Samaritan’s Feet initiatives, is to bring a life-changing message of hope, love and compassion to children and adults in need, according to its website (samaritansfeet.org). “Every time we sit across from a child, we not only meet their physical needs with a pair of shoes and socks, but we spend quality time with them asking about their dreams and their lives. We at Samaritan’s Feet believe that a new pair of shoes can be a tangible foundation for hope to a person in need.”
The organization has distributed more than 48,000 pairs of shoes throughout the past three years.
Along with the Shoes of Hope events, UCA has been a valuable contributor to Operation Christmas Child, another outreach program under the umbrella of Samaritan’s Feet. Each Christmas since 2013, the UCA student-athletes from all 17 sports have purchased, wrapped and distributed hundreds of gift boxes for needy children.
Operation Christmas Child has delivered more than 1 million Christmas shoeboxes stuffed with gifts for children in more than 100 countries around the world since 1993.
“Every year a new group of our student-athletes takes the initiative and makes these programs a huge success,” said UCA assistant athletic director Natalie Shock, who is the sponsor of UCA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). “Some of our student-athletes commented on how much fun they had buying the gifts and packing the boxes. It made them feel like kids again. One of our sports last year went to a store in Conway to buy their gifts, and another sport had beaten them to the store and bought all the toys.”
“I truly believe the student-athletes get as much out of this endeavor each year as the children who receive the shoeboxes. It’s gratifying to see them work so hard to put a smile on a child’s face and make this project so successful every year. You can see the joy on their faces when they deliver the boxes to our office, and this is nothing compared to the joy the boxes bring those children around the world,” said Shock.
Indeed, putting smiles on the faces of children never gets old.