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Rotary club provides city’s students in need with new shoes

Two by two, the North Las Vegas Rotary Club delivers happiness during sad times.

Since 1991, the club has distributed more than 10,000 pairs of shoes to needy North Las Vegas children via a program known as Happy Feet.

The scene when the child receives the new shoes and three pairs of socks is enough to change an outlook, club members said.

“You see happy feet and happy faces,” said club spokesman Robert Lillis.

Happy Feet started almost 21 years ago under the tutelage of former North Las Vegas Fire Department chief Mike Massey. Twenty-five pairs of shoes were distributed at Fay Herron Elementary School, 2421 N. Kenneth Way, in the club’s first distribution, said club member Randy Pote.

Among the first recipients were the three children of a single mother unable to purchase new shoes, Lillis said.

“It’s blown up from there,” Pote said.

The estimated 10,000 pairs of shoes have been donated since to students at 11 North Las Vegas schools and the Boys & Girls Club James Clubhouse, 2530 E. Carey Ave.

Despite an instant and steady reception, the club has struggled to keep up with demand in the wake of the economic downtown.

“We are hurting in our fundraising and income,” Lillis said. “Our motto is ‘Service above self.’ Our goal is to serve.”

The program is year-round, but half of all shoe orders are received within the first two months of school. The second strongest wave is midyear, around January, said club member and Happy Feet coordinator Kenneth Skelton.

“We’ve done as many as 800 to 900 pairs a year, but this year, because of budget constraints, (it will be) less,” he said.

For Rotary year 2011-2012 to date, 82 pairs of shoes have been delivered at a total cost of $1,147.

Each pair of shoes costs about $15, and most are donated by a large-scale shoe retailer, Skelton said. The club needs monetary donations to help the program keep momentum.

Pote said he was a proponent of the club keeping a low profile for Happy Feet.

“We wanted to protect the privacy of the child,” he said. “I think now it’s time people know about Happy Feet and know the difference it’s made in the North Las Vegas schools.”

Many of the 13 Rotary clubs in the valley and some abroad have adopted a version of the program, Pote said.

Happy Feet officials work closely with school officials, who target needy students. Many have outgrown their shoes or are running around with duct tape keeping the soles on, Pote said.

Pote said he has found that the gift of a pair of new shoes provides some fringe benefits, too.

“Not only can they run and not worry about tripping themselves, but their self-esteem changes drastically,” he said. “We didn’t realize what it could do for their self-esteem.”

Students’ reactions often prompted some club members to commit more deeply to the North Las Vegas Rotary Club, Skelton said.

“The kids are really appreciative,” he said. “That’s how I got hooked into it.”

For more information or to donate, call 384-3507, mail to H. Dale Tobler Charities, P.O. Box 335217, North Las Vegas, NV 89031 or visit nlvrc.org/newsite/Happy.htm.

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

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