When Carlene James gets an idea in her head, she does something about it.
So nearly three years ago when she heard a presentation at her church about Shoes for Orphan Souls, she knew she wanted in on it. The mission of Shoes for Orphan Souls struck a chord with her as a health and physical education teacher.
“I was particularly interested in the illnesses that children can acquire from walking around with bare feet,” James said. “And, of course, the fact that many children can’t attend school without shoes. It just really interested me, so I looked into going on a Saturday to help out.”
James has been dedicated to volunteering every Saturday since then. In February 2011, she joined the volunteer captains – a team of regulars who help new volunteer groups sign in, fill out paperwork and understand the shoe sorting process. Volunteer captains also educate groups about the mission of Shoes for Orphan Souls and answer any questions groups may have.
Alex Dean, humanitarian aid assistant, said James is especially good at finding unique ways to engage with volunteers.
“Other volunteer captains and our staff here talk about her willingness and her servant’s heart,” Dean said. “It’s funny – the groups she works with on Saturdays walk out the door saying, ‘Oh my goodness, we had such a good time working with Carlene,’ or they’ll ask to take pictures with her. They just fall in love with her.”
James said the hardest thing about volunteering at the warehouse was seeing all the photos of children in other countries and being unable to hug them and connect with them. Finally, in June, she was able to go on a Shoes for Orphan Souls mission trip to Guatemala.
“It was great to really get to know and see the work firsthand at the other end of the process,” James said. “It gives you the full picture, going from the warehouse to literally putting the shoes on the kids’ feet.”
The trip didn’t go perfectly – the container of shoes was held up in customs, so the trip-goers had to haul bags of shoes with them on their flight to Guatemala – but things worked out in the end and James got to experience several special moments throughout her trip.
At the City of Children, a large government-run orphanage, one boy ventured into the room where shoes would be distributed to check things out. James said the boy’s face lit up when he spied a pair of Spiderman tennis shoes.
Before mission trip travelers ever arrive to fit children with shoes, the children’s measurements are taken, Buckner Guatemala staff gather the right shoe sizes and each pair is matched with a child’s name and shoe size.
“I thought it would be so cool if those Spiderman shoes had that little boy’s name in them,” James said. “And sure enough, when the time came to distribute the shoes, the Spiderman shoes were his.”
James now has lots of these stories to tell to the volunteer groups she assists at the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid each Saturday.
“When she came back, she was totally broken for the people and the work Buckner Guatemala is doing, and she’s further able to engage our volunteers here,” Dean said. “She’ll tell them, ‘I just got back from giving these shoes out, and you have no idea how important what you’re doing is.’ She’s so great at inspiring our volunteers and genuinely being excited about the work we do.”
The most important thing, James said, is seeing the bigger picture.
“I believe it’s not just the physical shoes we’re sending,” James said. “It’s the love of Christ that’s represented in each pair of shoes. That’s the whole motive, and that’s what I try to help others see.”
To learn more about volunteering with Shoes for Orphan Souls, click here.