It can be easy to take shoes for granted. But Bari Sandler Lansberg has met children forced to share shoes with a parent or to wear a pair that doesn’t fit or to be at a disadvantage in the gym or on the field because of improper footwear.
She’s also seen that for those same children, when they finally have a decent pair of shoes, their joy seems to spread all the way down to their toes.
Lansberg, executive director of the Ohio chapter of Cleats for Kids, has been named an Enquirer Woman of the Year for her philanthropy work, linking athletic shoes and equipment to children with limited or no access to them.
Since she opened the Ohio chapter, she’s helped give out about 10,000 items to children in the region, youth sports teams and schools. Most of the items have been shoes.
The children she’s worked with often don’t know their shoe sizes and many express elation when they put on a perfectly fitted shoe.
One girl, Lansberg said, loved her shoes so much she wanted to sleep in them. Another told her she wouldn’t have to share her shoes with her mother anymore.
And a boy, after receiving a fresh pair of kicks, told Lansberg, “I can’t believe you care about us so much. I want to give you a donation because you are good people.”
Sports can be expensive, and Lansberg hopes that through C4K, as her nonprofit is known colloquially, she can create positive opportunities for youth.
Last year, the nonprofit partnered with Cincinnati Public Schools to outfit eight girls soccer teams with cleats, shin guards and balls. This year, the partnership grew to 20 teams.
Cleats for Kids helped eliminate the entry barrier to sports for the girls, “so now they could just play,” Lansberg said. “These girls have a mentor, are building relationships, friendships. It’s so much more than just cleats. They’re learning life lessons by being on a sport.”
Brent Langhorne, an elementary athletics coordinator at Cincinnati Public Schools, recommended Lansberg for the Woman of the Year honor.
He said Lansberg’s efforts have positively affected many students.
“We have many growing initiatives in our elementary sport programs, and she has been instrumental in providing cleats and equipment to all participants,” Langhorne said. “We look forward to a continued partnership with Cleats for Kids to impact as many students as possible.”
Lansberg started Cleats for Kids in Ohio after seeing the meaningful work her relatives were doing in Oklahoma, where they were members of the founding C4K chapter. When Lansberg started out, donations poured in, overflowing the storage space she’d purchased for the cause.
Now she has a facility in Milford where shelves line both sides of a long hallway. The shelves are buried under mainly shoes and shoe boxes, but basketballs, football pads, volleyballs, soccer balls and other equipment also fill the space.
Officials from New Balance toured the facility earlier this year and were won over. The shoe company donated 1,600 new pairs – about one-and-a-half tons worth – of shoes to Cleats for Kids, marking the nonprofit’s first large donation.
Cleats for Kids is seeking new volunteers, Lansberg said, as well as donations to help outfit even more children with equipment for gym activities and sports.
Those interested can visit the Ohio Cleats for Kids’ website to donate funds or to find a donation bin.
Cleats for Kids is currently seeking all types of items, but particularly basketball shoes, volleyball knee pads and track spikes for sprinters.
ABOUT SANDLER LANSBERG:
Current residence: Cincinnati
Family: Husband, Brent Lansberg; daughter, Mia, 18; son Joey, 15
Education: Art history degree, University of Texas at Austin
Occupation: Executive director, Ohio’s Cleats for Kids
WHAT SHE SAYS:
What inspires you to help others? “It’s these kids we help who inspire me. Their smiles and hugs but (also) some of their words I will never forget. One girl told me that she wouldn’t have to share shoes with her mom anymore. Another girl told me after giving her brand new socks and shoes – she said this was the best day of her life. It breaks my heart most of us take for granted getting new shoes, but for these kids, it can change their lives.”
What problem or need in the community would you like to see addressed? “I feel it’s so important for these kids to gain self-confidence by being part of a team, staying active after school and having that mentor or coach for them. If I can provide the necessary sports gear to enable them to learn those life lessons, then I’m happy we can do that.”
Who influenced or inspired you to care about others? “My parents. … They’ve instilled this tradition in me that I am passing on to my kids. And I’m so proud to be their daughter and I’m so proud to be one of The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Woman of the Year, that people believe in what we’re doing and that we’re making a difference.”
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