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Friday, November 7, 2014

Charities Guild of Northern Kentucky: Happy Feet Ball

(Originally published in the October edition of The Fort Thomas Living)

The Charities Guild of Northern Kentucky is a volunteer and non-profit organization composed of approximately 50 local women that is committed to promoting the well being of children and families in Northern Kentucky. For over 30 years CGNK has hosted various events and fundraisers to benefit this mission.  CGNK is happy to announce plans for the fourth annual Happy Feet Ball, which will take place Saturday, November 8, at the New Riff Distillery. Proceeds from the Happy Feet Ball will benefit the group’s flagship endeavor, the Shoe Fund. The Shoe Fund provides shoes to area children in need, by partnering with local schools and social service agencies. Shoe vouchers are distributed, which allow individuals to shop for $30 worth of shoes and socks. While new shoes and socks may be a part of most people’s annual back to school shopping, that’s not the case for all returning students.

Molly Wesley-Chevalier, Family Resource Center Coordinator for the Newport Independent Schools reports “One of every five Newport Primary School students (preschool-2nd grade) is classified as homeless, which presents challenges, not the least of which is keeping comfortable shoes on the feet of our young children.” Newport Independent Schools has partnered with the Charities Guild of Northern Kentucky for several years, and usually receives over 100 vouchers a year. Newport Independent Schools is not alone. Many children in our area go without shoes that fit and are in good condition, which can detrimentally affect their self-confidence, as well as their education. “We believe that every child should feel special on their first day of school and that starts with having the proper shoes to wear,” states CGNK president Cory Ruschman. Educators report that when children arrive at school with shoes in good condition, that the children are able to focus more effectively on learning. The Shoe Fund seeks to fulfill this need in our community. And now, more than ever, the need is great. Kentucky ranks in the top five states for the percentage of children in poverty. In fact, 1 in 4 children are living in poverty in the state of Kentucky, and 1 in 3 in city of Newport.

Because of these facts, the Charities Guild has sought to expand and grow the Shoe Fund in the past couple of years. A major focus of this project has been the Charities Guild’s outreach and concerted efforts to connect with school and agency officials in order to educate them on the availability of the vouchers and how they can be used. “Educating our partner agencies has been key in increasing the number of shoe vouchers being used, and ultimately getting shoes to those most in need of them,” says Shoe Fund Committee Chair Jennifer Rickard. “Counselors and social workers are now purchasing shoes for their students/clients and creating mini shoes banks within their organization. We have seen a sizable increase in voucher redemption.” Members have also been able to expand the availability of the voucher program to encompass more social service agencies such as the Echo Soup Kitchen at Henry Hosea House, Holly Hill Children’s Services, and Madison Avenue Christian Church, to name a few. Because of this, the Shoe Fund has grown exponentially. This year alone, over $19,000 worth of vouchers have been redeemed. This is up from roughly $10,000 just three short years ago.

Growth isn’t the only change that the Shoe Fund has gone through this year. The program has also been fortunate to welcome a new corporate partner in Burlington Coat Factory. Burlington Coat Factory has two tri-state locations that work with the Charities Guild to accept vouchers and provide a wide variety of merchandise. Being able to go to the store and pick out their own shoes, gives students the comfort and confidence that they can then bring back to school. Wesley-Chevalier states “Countless children have been proud to show off their new shoes to me.” Because of the growth of the Shoe Fund in the past few years, as well as this new corporate partnership, members of CGNK are excited about opportunities for the future. In fact this year the organization is set to launch a pilot voucher program, focusing on coats. “Our coat pilot program is being received with great enthusiasm and gratitude,” states Coat Committee Chair, Kelly Horner. “It is our hope that we can continue the coat donation program and expand it in future years to meet the needs of even more Northern Kentucky children.”

Understanding the impact the Shoe Fund has on the community, CGNK members are motivated more than ever in their fundraising efforts. President Cory Ruschman states, “Raising money for our Shoe Fund is so rewarding. The ladies of Charities Guild work hard year round to host the Happy Feet Ball and because of that our fundraising efforts have paid off. 2013 was a record breaking year for our shoe voucher program.” And because of that continued motivation, big changes are coming to the 2014 Happy Feet Ball. This year, the event has been relocated to the New Riff Distillery, the newest member of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. “We are excited to be taking a fresh direction with the Happy Feet Ball this year by hosting it at the New Riff Distillery. With the brand-new venue, open bar approach, and catering by Jeff Thomas, we hope that people will be energized to join us in raising money to meet the tangible needs of kids right here in our own community,” says event co-chair Liz Younger. This year’s event will include cocktails, hors d’oerves, and a DJ, in addition to an incredible silent auction thanks to tremendous community support.

Sponsors for the 2014 Happy Feet Ball are TQ Constructors, The Kidney and Hypertension Center, Dr. Joseph Kremer, and Hamilton Digital and while tickets for the event are completely sold out, it is not too late to support the cause by becoming a “Pair Partner” ($30 donation). Each $30 donation provides a Shoe Voucher (good for $30 worth of shoes/socks) to a local child in need.  Go to here to donate and/or learn more.

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