12/13/13

The Gift of SNEAKERS!


Last year Mohammed, my 16-year-old cousin, raised money for homeless kids in New York City. With help from family and friends, he raised over $1,000 and gave brand new sneakers to 5 kids living in shelters. He reached out to me recently and asked if I would spread the word on my blog. Honestly, I was hesitant.

While I contributed to Mohammed's fund last year, I had a hard time understanding why designer sneakers would be his gift of choice. Couldn't he have found something more necessary? Get them shoes, sure, but for the price of one pair of Michael Jordan 9s, he could have bought a backpack, jacket, shoes, and a Christmas dinner for the kid's family. They are homeless! They should be happy with any shoes. I recently asked him to explain a little more about his project. In response, he wrote:
Two years ago, I was homeless. I lived in a shelter in Harlem close to my friends and peers. They didn’t know I was homeless, and I was often made fun of because of the way I looked. I know what it’s like to feel embarrassed about living in a shelter and worrying that someone would notice that I wore the same clothes almost every day. The constant burden in the minds of homeless kids is their outward appearance: Are clothes neat and clean? Do my shoes look new?
After reading his letter, I found out about Dasani, the 11-year-old girl whose life as a homeless child is being profiled in this New York Times series this week. It's amazing to see how similar her feelings are to my cousin's. The article states:
Dasani tells herself that brand names don’t matter. She knows such yearnings will go unanswered, so better not to have them. But once in a while, when by some miracle her mother produces a new pair of Michael Jordan sneakers, Dasani finds herself succumbing to the same exercise: She wears them sparingly, and only indoors, hoping to keep them spotless. It never works. 
Later in the article, Dasani describes how Christmas gifts are scarce: coloring books, a train set, stick-on tattoos, one doll for each girl. When asked what she would do to change the world, she said, "I would give people presents, like kids who don't get presents by parents. I could give them presents with my own money out of my pocket."

I find it inspiring that the first year Mohammed got out of the homeless shelter, he worked hard to do just that. Here's how he describes it:
Last year, with the help from family and friends, I made a few kids stop worrying about this for a while. I gave brand new sneakers to 5 kids. These sneakers were their only Christmas presents and were worth far more than their actual cost. They brought a peace of mind and a great deal of comfort for kids who are trying to focus on more than just their living situation.  
I’m trying help kids check off that one Christmas gift they really want and ease some of their burdens for awhile. Please help by giving again. Let’s make a few kids feel better about themselves this year. Your donation will help homeless kids who might not receive any other gifts this holiday season.  
Let’s make a difference in their lives, and one day they will do the same for others. Click on this link to donate through PayPal.
Thanks for your help. 
Good Luck Mohammed! Thank you for giving me a glimpse into your life and sharing your story. Sorry I didn't understand the mission of your sneaker project at first. I get it now. You've taught me so much over the past two years. Love you.

Here's some pictures of shoes and the kids Mohammed helped last year:


37 comments:

  1. Get ready for the comments...this is gonna get ugly.

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    1. I usually object to deleting comments because I avoid censorship of any kind. However, in this case, Mohammed is trying to benefit some kids that need help. If the comments distract from the purpose of the fundraiser, I will probably delete.

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  2. This is awesome! What a great young man!!

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  3. There is not a better person to understand what will make a homeless child happy than one who has been homeless himself. I work with children who live in group homes after being taken from their parents and they express very similar sentiments. While the child might physically benefit from more practical things, the soul is what is benefitting here. And for a lot of these children, that can be the most important. Good for Mohammed!! He experienced something first hand and is now doing what he can to help others. I'm impressed and I'm donating.

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  4. I love this idea and I think it is very well-explained. Thank you, Mohammed, for doing this. I think it is truly heroic to want to help other homeless young people instead of moving away from this time in your life and never looking back. I guess I would not have the courage to do that, but at least I will donate.

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  5. Confidence is key! Anything to make a homeless kid feel more confident and valued is A okay in my book. And what was I going to do with that extra cash anyway? Maybe buy expensive shoes that I really, really, really don't need. Go Mo!

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  6. mohammed sounds like such an amazing person, and i love that he thought about what those kids would truly want and what would make them happy. this post was really inspiring. thanks so much for sharing. xoxo

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  7. Inspiring! I love this. Thank you so much for sharing. Your cousin seems like a truly outstanding young man!

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  8. I'm sorry to have to write a critical comment here. But after reading Dasani's story in the NYT, it seemed to me that one of the central problems her parents had was the inability to save any money at all. As many commenters to that article pointed out, virtually all their basic living expenses are being covered by the government. When they receive cash, they appear to immediately spend it on things that are not in the best interest of their family's future. I get that homeless kids are more concerned about their outward appearance than most other kids. But if my math is right, each pair of sneakers cost more than $200. Is that really the best use of that money? And is it doing these kids a favor to reinforce the idea that it's better to spend now on flashy items rather than saving the money for a larger goal? Again, I appreciate what Mohammed is trying to do, but I don't know if this is the best wa to go about it.

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    1. I just want to point out, hopefully non-snarkily, a few things about your comment that I believe are a touch uncouth:

      1. Mohammed has been a homeless child. This makes him uniquely qualified to assess what a homeless child would most appreciate as a gift. I believe practicality isn't Mohammed's point here. While living in a shelter, he probably wished for new Jordans so he could blend in at school and quit getting picked on. Now he's giving that gift to others in his situation. You don't have to 'get it.' You just have to trust that Mohammed does.

      2. Parents not choosing to spend money "well" in your opinion is a cultural/societal/systems problem and it's important not to consider it the fault of individual parents who do it. Regardless, I think it relates well to your notion that Mohammed shouldn't be reinforcing the idea that flashy items are better than long-term saving. It's fully reinforced, baby. Mohammed taking a stand against that would be a drop in the bucket. Instead, he's changing the lives of a few children in a tough situation. Yes, I know it's a sad statement on society to say $200 sneakers could change the lives of homeless kids, but that's not Mohammed's problem.

      3. It's also a little silly to say homeless children are more concerned with their outward appearance than other children. The vast majority of children are concerned with their appearance. It's really hard being a kid, especially a teenager. I can imagine homeless kids just really want to blend in. Again, yep, too bad we're in a world where that's what kids would want -- but we are.

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  9. In response to the comment above from Anonymous - I think you are missing the point. This isn't about the parents, this isn't about government assistance or teaching adults to take responsibility for their choices. This story is about the kids who are living in situations that are out of their control. Mohammed's only goal is to bring joy to a child. A feeling and a memory that probably doesn't come often and will stay with them for life. All at the cost of what many will spend on one nice dinner this weekend. You have to see that this isn't a lesson in money management but a reminder that all kids deserve a moment of joy, regardless of their parents choices. I found myself very proud of Mohammed in this story. His heart and intention is very inspiring. Thank you, Sharon!

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  10. Great job Mohammed. I think it's so important that we see this side of homelessness. That there are families trying to make it out of shelters, children trying to make it through school, etc. I live in NYC and read Dasani's article while I was at work the other day, and on my way home that night a woman got on my subway car selling Christmas ornaments she had made to raise money to buy her children Christmas gifts. She was unemployed and said that her family had spent last Christmas in a shelter, and her eight-year-old asked her why Santa didn't stop there. I don't always carry cash with me, so I gave her a dollar and a little food I had with me. I was so shaken having just read the article and thinking about her kids wishing for a Christmas this year. Looking back, I wish I had done more, gotten contact information or something, I would have gladly bought some toys for them. Anyway, my question is, do shelters organize donations or anything like that? How did Mohammed get in touch with these kids? Are they children that he knows from his neighborhood or from the shelter? I would love to do something like this but don't know where to start. Thank you and Merry Christmas :) -M

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  11. Thank you Taylor Czech! There are millions of logical and more responsible things to do with the money, But as youn stated ALL children deserve joy. There has to be a glimpse of hope and sunshine sometime, and as a human being, no one can honestly say that material things we desire don't bring on happy feeling on aquired,even if only temporary. I think it is a lovely idea, he spefically wanted to provide them with those specific gifts, and they deserve it, no matter what their living situaion is.
    Thank you Mohammed for your generious and selfless spirit.

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  12. I really love this. I don't know why anyone would look at this negatively. As a society, I think there can be a problem with giving things we don't want (that no one wants) but feeling like it's a good thing because it's being charitable while in fact it can be demeaning. I am a bit tired and not wording this very eloquently, but I know there is a place where I live in Toronto (called Jesse's Place) that is a safe haven for young moms. They ask that you donate things you would be proud to wear or proud for your children to wear because a little pride, dignity, and self-assurance goes a long way for making a hard life a little bit brighter.
    Mohammed has truly inspired me and I shed a couple tears of joy for what a wonderful thing he has come up with.

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  13. Not going to lie, my first reaction was, he raised $1000 and he spent it on five pairs of shoes?? I don't even own a pair of shoes that expensive! But I'm glad I kept reading. :) His mission really touched me. Christmas is about giving joy and that's what he is doing. And seriously, I spent way more than $200 on a glorified man toy for my husband, so why not spend $200 to put a pair of decent shoes on a homeless kid's feet. Thanks for sharing his story.

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  14. This is wonderful! So amazing to see young people doing such inspiring things.

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  15. I have worked with homeless youth and I can tell you that this is a wonderful gift. Mohammed is giving these children a gift, something purely for them that will make them happy in the moment! Who doesn't deserve that? Think of all the times we treat ourselves to new shoes or a cup of coffee or a movie, things these kids rarely get.

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  16. I agree that while it may not make "sense" to us, Mohammed isn't just randomly choosing to do this, he lived it and knows what would really brighten up their day. Their most basic needs are being met (food, clothing, shelter,) what this is is an extraordinary gift. It's amazing to me that at 16 he was motivated to do this. At 16 I was mostly concerned with what I was going to wear and watch on TV. Can you imagine what this kid is going to accomplish in his lifetime?? His efforts are truly inspiring.

    My only question is does the store know what's going on? Perhaps they would be able to give some sort of discount based on his efforts. (Getting the media involved, with their permission, may help.)

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  17. Awesome, awesome, awesome! What a great story. All that matters is that he gave a gift that mattered to those kids and brought a little bit of happiness and joy to their lives. He made them feel important, special, loved. All the holistic what's-best-for-society arguments are missing the point of a boy uniquely touching the lives of individuals who desperately need something just for them. What a great kid.

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  18. Your cousin sounds like a good kid. That's wonderful he's putting in his time and energy toward a cause he believes in at such a young age. My friend started a company, Piggybackr, that helps kids raise funds using crowdsourcing for their causes or business ideas. It allows them to reach more people, raise more money and teaches them some valuable skills. Sounds like it could help your cousin expand his efforts! http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news%2Ftechnology&id=9313828

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  19. this is so wonderful, and he's in a (sadly) unique position to identify and make it better. Instead of hiding his past he has learned from it and helps others. What a wonderful gift he is giving those children (more than just the shoes).

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  20. What Mohammed has shown is empathy and that in itself is a gift. What he is doing for those kids comes from a place so real and raw. We can fix problems and resolve issues with what we know and this is what he knows. I applaud his thoughtfulness and wow at only 16 too. Keep going Mohammed - I support you! Thanks Sharon, you are the best and I miss you!! xo Happy Christmas!

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  21. thanks for posting this. it's really interesting and makes me think about holiday donations in a totally different way. would you mind keeping us updated on how much money he raises and how many kids he helps? since the donations page is just a paypal link there's no way of seeing his progress like kickstarter pages do. thanks! donating now.

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    1. thanks katherine! yes--i'll for sure keep you updated :)

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  22. While reading Dasani's story, I kept asking myself how I could help. This is one way. I love Mohammad's compassion, and the way he articulates his mission to those of us who might not know which J's are which.

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  23. I love love love this post. Thank you.

    Every year, my department participates in a program where we 'adopt' a family in need's Christmas list which is usually composed of underwear, toiletries, and winter boot type items. These lists are obviously made by the parents, but the kids also get to have a Christmas pick where they can wish for the most extravagant, useless, and expensive item that only a fellow kid could appreciate. It's always been hard for me to get past that "What now, $200 headphones! I wouldn't even buy that for myself!" feeling...but I've recently started to understand that, for me, giving is an exercise in what Mohammed articulated-being able to empathize, put yourself in the other person's place and respond rather than judging and elevating one's values and perspective. Personally, I'm learning that giving is best when rooted in love, which means giving not because it's something you think they deserve or need, but simply because it would give joy, fulfill a wish, and make the person feel a little extraordinary.

    Thanks again for posting. Best of luck to Mohammed.

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  24. This is the type of act that the recipients will remember for the rest of their lives. Wonderful.

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  25. I appreciate being educated by someone who has "walked the walk". Donation made. Best wishes, Mohammed.

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  26. Thank you for sharing and thank you Mohammed for so courageously moving forward with this mission!

    I read a blog many years ago asking, when you give a donation to a food shelf or homeless shelter, do you give organic (if you yourself eat organic) or do you give whatever's cheapest? Having worked with many people who experience material poverty, I can tell you that poverty of the mind and the spirit is actually what is the most dangerous. What we give to someone communicates what we value - and the value that we place on THEM. If an item isn't good enough for me or my family, why would I give it to someone else? If we treated homeless people the way that we treat our family, with the VALUE that we place on our own family, then the poverty of their minds and spirits would be lifted in a way that no material possession could do.

    When you are materially poor, you don't want to waste your time on something that won't last, even if it's free, because you don't know when you'll get another pair of shoes. I am so thankful that Mohammed is giving these kids a chance to have something beautiful, useful, and worthwhile.

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  27. Thank you so much for posting this. I hope your cousin is even more successful this year. (Donation made)

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  28. Great idea! I grew up without a lot of money and this cause really hits home. I've donated and shared this post on my blog's Facebook page. While I am into minimalism, anti-consumerism and living with less I know that a great pair of sneakers could be a real source of pride and joy for a kid that otherwise has very little. Good luck, Mohammed.

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  29. Love this.. Donation made.

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  30. I participated and would love to do so again next year! So honored to take part in the joy Mohammed is giving to others. Merry Christmas!

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  31. Shoes or no shoes. How did you let your cousin be homeless???

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    1. Wait, seriously you are asking this? Please make an inference to help you with this one!

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