For years, students at Thoreau Demonstration Academy have been assigned community service projects inspired by the movie "Pay It Forward," but educators there are calling one 12-year- old boy's current quest the most creative yet.
Seventh-grader Henry Allen started out the semesterlong project thinking he would collect items for the poor in third- world countries.
Then he learned about poverty in his hometown.
His former baby sitter, Hanna Tacha, who is now a behavioral health case manager at Family & Children's Services assigned to homeless outreach, told him about a recent client of hers.
"Hanna told me about someone who only had one shoe on and it was wet," Henry said.
"I didn't know there's people in Tulsa who don't have a pair of shoes."
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His idea on how to address that need might seem unconventional — but only to those outside of the elementary and middle school sets.
He organized the "Socks and Soles" dodgeball tournament.
The entry fee was a donated pair of new or gently used sneakers or other shoes warm enough for winter.
He ended up recruiting 12 teams of four players each from numerous public and private schools and collecting 122 pairs of shoes.
"A lot of people brought like four pairs. One person brought an entire tub full of shoes," Henry said. "There was even a brand new pair of Nikes, which was really cool."
His idea to sell concessions in exchange for new pairs of socks was nearly sunk when he struck out asking retailers to donate drinks and snacks.
PAYING IT FORWARD: 12-YEAR-OLD ORGANIZES CHARITY
"I was in my desperate feeling — trying to figure out how to do this," he said.
Just in the nick of time, the Choctaw Nation delivered two gift cards as its young member's rewards for perfect attendance and good grades last school year.
Henry used those to buy bottled water, Gatorade and Twix candy bars, he said "because everybody loves Twix."
His sister Lila, 8, also made a few dozen of the popular rubber band bracelets, called rainbow loom bracelets, to sell in exchange for new socks.
Between those sales and the concession items, Henry collected two large garbage bags filled with new socks.
Everything will be delivered to area homeless people through Family & Children's Services and The Salvation Army but not until December.That means this determined middle-school student has another month and a half to try to achieve his goal of collecting at least 200 pairs of shoes.
He has placed donation boxes at Hub International CFR, the insurance brokerage firm where his father and grandfather work.
Donations also will be accepted during school hours at Thoreau, 7370 E. 71st St.
"This is more than curriculum," said Thoreau teacher Kristy Hutton. "It's about being a good person in someone else's life.
"This was the most creative so far," she added, "and he did everything himself."
As proud as anyone is Henry's former babysitter, who will personally see those in need benefit from his endeavor.
"I'm very proud of him," Tacha said. "I love seeing it all come together."
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470