I originally wrote this piece in August of 2016 during my first 500 Words a Day writing challenge, started by my friend Kirk. I still thing it's a pretty amazing story.
This little girl didn’t know where she was going to go at the end of our three-day camp. She wasn’t sure if she’d be able to go back to her foster parents’ house, or if she’d be going to her grandmother’s house. There’s a story there, but I didn’t get to hear it.
She’s going to be a 7th grader when school starts in the fall, and she was excited about it. She wore old glasses that didn’t quite fit right, so she would often rest them on top of her head so they were out of the way.
We were running a camp for middle schoolers in Oregon from rural, low income schools. At every camp, summit, and conference I’ve worked at so far, there is always a moment. Something that strikes me, tugs at my heart strings, or makes me think -- something that has a lasting impact on me. In Oregon, this timid little girl, with bright eyes and a warm smile, was the star of the moment.
During camps like this, there are usually two staff members. One person is in the front of the room leading the students in an activity, and the other person sits at a table on the side of the room and organizes the logistics: he or she stops and starts the music, makes sure the supplies are ready for the next activity, and coordinates with the team leaders and camp chaperones. It was the afternoon on Day 3 and I was sitting at the logistics table.
Right as Justin, the lead trainer, was beginning to lead the next piece from the front of the room, this little girl snuck over to the side of the room and kneeled down in front of the table where I was sitting.
“Can I borrow your tape?” she asked me. I looked at her a little confused — she wasn’t the type of student to be messing around or wasting time while we’re doing an activity. Why does she need tape? Why can’t she wait until the next break? I was perplexed and about to tell her to go have a seat, and that we could talk during the next break.
Then she holds up both of her shoes, one in each hand. The tattered rubber soles are literally hanging down from the rest of her shoes. The glue had completely worn away and there were holes in the bottom. Her shoes should have been thrown away a few months ago. They were in terrible shape.
She wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed by them, though. She just knew that they presented a challenge that needed to be addressed — because at the moment, her shoes wouldn't stay on her feet.
When a little girl holds up a pair of worn out shoes, and she looks at you and asks to borrow a roll of masking tape so she can fix them, you say yes – no matter what else is happening. Of course I gave her some tape.
So while Justin was standing at the front of the room and I was supposed to be focusing on him so I can support the piece, I can’t help but watch this little girl as she intently works on her shoes. She spent a couple minutes taping the soles back onto the shoes with cheap masking tape. It was one of those times when I knew I should be doing something more to help her, but I had no idea what or how. So I just watched.
The most amazing thing about watching her was that she had a smile on her face the whole time, legitimately proud of her ingenuity and ability to solve this problem.
After a couple minutes, just as she was finishing wrapping up her second shoe in tape, her chaperone from her school walked over to her, noticing that she wasn’t sitting with the rest of the students. She quietly leaned down and asked her what size shoe she wears. I knew what the chaperone was going to do. When the girl walked in the next morning with a brand new pair of shoes, I smiled.
It was a small and nearly anonymous moment. I don’t know if the little girl will remember it in a few years, and I’m not sure if the chaperone will either. Teachers regularly buy their students pencils, scissors, lunches, and yes, sometimes shoes.
One thing I do know is that this girl came to camp with a chaperone that cared about her, and she left with more self-confidence, stronger relationships with her peers, academic skills that will help her succeed in school, and a new pair of shoes. And that’s not bad for a week.