By TERESA HAMMOND
Spring Break 2016 is one Oakdale High School Senior Bryce Hobbs will not soon forget. While some may have packed for a trip to the snow or tropical weather, the Knights Ferry 18-year-old had something different in mind.
Bryce, along with nine others from around the United States, traveled to San Jose, Costa Rica as travel participants of Soles4Souls. Their mission was seemingly simple, yet largely impactful … deliver 1400 pairs of shoes to persons in need in three days.
“I was talking about wanting to do something cool like this,” Bryce said of discovering the Nashville-based not for profit, noting the company TOMS and their philanthropy efforts as early inspiration.
“My mom started looking and found them,” he continued. “I could either collect shoes or get donations through a Go Fund Me account to cover the expense and pay for the shoes that we would deliver to Costa Rica.”
Soles4Souls is described on its website as a “not for profit global social enterprise committed to fighting poverty.” Founded in 2004, to date the organization has distributed over 22 million pairs of shoes to persons in over 127 countries.
Each of the 10 travel participants raised over $1,000 each by donation alone for the opportunity to travel to San Jose for the distribution.
“It’s called the happiest country in the world,” Bryce said of his destination. “Everyone there was happy with what they had. I mean there could be a whole family in one little room and they were all smiles just to see you.”
Recognizing his own good fortune, as well as that of his friends, the teen shared a sense of humbling gratitude gained from the experience.
During the trip, one day was spent prepping and planning and making arrangements for distribution, three of the days were spent servicing and fitting the townspeople with brand new shoes.
In addition to sizing each of the 1400 who passed through during their three days of fitting, the volunteers would also clean the feet of each recipient. Children were also each given an extra goodie.
“They would come in, get their feet sized, we’d write their size on their hand and we’d wash their feet,” the OHS senior said matter-of-factly.
“First it was kind of uncomfortable,” he admitted of the feet cleaning, “and then it was kind of nice to just make them feel comfortable. Some of them were very uncomfortable (with the feet cleaning) and you could tell.”
Bryce shared stories of the children and their smiles as they received their extra goodie after being fit for new shoes, noting one child in particular who lit up as he was given the go ahead to take a toothbrush.
“That was so weird to me,” Bryce said candidly, “something we take for granted every day made this kid so happy. I went there expecting to help them and put my impact on the world where I can.”
What the Knights Ferry youth learned instead was a lesson which some take a lifetime to learn. As he relived shared moments with the Costa Rican’s and fellow volunteers, his voice became filled with emotion.
“Costa Rica impacted me much more than I expected,” he said with evident emotion in his eyes. “In a very positive way. They did so much with nothing. To me, we give up way too early.”
Bryce shared during his travels home, he began sharing his experience with his friends, stating his friends were not only receptive but inspired. He and his friends now hope to find a project locally to aid those less fortunate in our area.
“We haven’t had the moment to act upon it yet,” he said, “but it’s kind of cool to inspire my friends.
“To me it’s really not why would I go, its more why wouldn’t I go? My mom made it available to me and my parents supported me. We’re very fortunate.”
Of the many lessons and personal growth Bryce gained during his five days in the third world country, there is one lesson which he shared impacted him the most.
“A smile and a hug can translate in any language,” he said. “It really did work. It was kind of cool to see them transition from uncomfortable to who they were.”