An 11-year-old girl recently partnered with a nonprofit organization to provide shoes for orphans in South America and Africa by organizing a school-wide shoe drive.
When planning for her baptism last year, Ashlynn Nieuwenhuis realized she wanted to do something to give back to society. Rather than receiving gifts at her baptism party, she asked to receive used shoes.
Ashlynn often tells a story of a specific photograph of a young, shoeless girl who spilled boiling water on her feet, causing serious injuries. Ashlynn said the photo made her realize that the children needed help.
“I wanted to do shoes because here in America we throw away a lot of shoes,” she said. “When I saw a picture my mom showed me, it really hurt my heart.”
Stacy Nieuwenhuis, Ashlynn’s mother, had shown her daughter the photos of barefoot orphans on Dando Amor’s website and said it progressed from there. Ashlynn is working with Dando Amor, whose name translates to “Giving Love,” on this project.
“As soon as she saw it, she told me she wanted to be involved,” Nieuwenhuis said. “She told me she would do whatever it took to help.”
One day at Fleming Island Elementary School, Ashlynn told her teacher, Elizabeth Toney, about her baptism party and asked if their fifth-grade class could start collecting shoes at school.
Toney said she told her to first get approval from school administration followed by a plan for collecting the shoes and informing others about the project.
“She took the task head on and soon word spread throughout our grade level,” Toney said. “I just sat back and let her lead the cause, offering a few incentives in class for participation.”
Toney is impressed but not surprised, as this kind of behavior is characteristic of Ashlynn. Both Toney and Ashlynn said they have a special bond because they came from the same school before both transferring to Fleming Island Elementary.
Ashlynn is fully responsible for collecting, cleaning and sorting the shoes. Toney said her hard work makes it obvious that her actions are genuinely about helping others who are less fortunate.
Ashlynn has collected almost 300 pair of shoes, even some samples of comfortable kitchen shoes in the bins located around her school and is hoping for more. She is also working on making her hometown an official drop off/pickup point for the nationwide Shoes For Love collection trip that will happen April 2-12.
“I want to go to all the places in the world where people need charity,” Ashlynn said. “I want to go on missionary trips and go see all the people there and just kind of, you know, help.”
Nieuwenhuis agreed and said the entire experience has been a catapult for her daughter, generating motivation to do more.
“She’s always been a sensitive kiddo — it’s just who she is — but this one really hit home,” she said. “It just keeps evolving into so much more good.”