40 For 40: Shoes for Smiles

One of our corporate clients, professor Mary Kirchner, at Methodist University, is truly walking the walk when it comes back to her personal, spiritual, and educational mission of giving back. Together with a group of her students, Professor Kirchner travels to Sololá, Guatemala, in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas Mountains, often bringing supplies, shoes, and pitching in to improve the local school where Kaqchikel Maya children are studying. Kirchner has taken students to Guatemala many times, giving them a unique opportunity to truly serve and give back.

“On previous trips, we have painted the school where we work.    This past spring, we painted the paved area in front of the school with hopscotch and other games that included numbers to help the kids learn math. Most of these children will be the first generation of their families to read.  They will be able to stay in Guatemala and find better jobs because they are literate.  We have sponsored a reading competition in the past to encourage reading.  The students who read the most (as determined by their teachers) receive a fruit tree planted by one of our students at their home.  The tree will provide fruit within two years as it is grafted onto a very strong root.  Typically the trees are mandarins, lemons, limes, or avocados.  The family will have better nutrition and later they can sell the fruit at a local market.  I donate the trees myself at a cost of $5 per tree.”

In addition to working on the physical condition of schools in Guatemala, Kirchner and her team have begun taking donations of shoes, medical, and school supplies to the community. What began as a small initiative has grown into Kirchner cleaning out Goodwill stores and her students holding drives at their places of employment to take as many supplies as possible. In fact, Kirchner and her students live out of their carry on suitcases while on their trips so that their checked luggage can carry as many supplies as they can fit.  This year, Ellie Gale, a Methodist student from Florida, is collecting shoes to donate both at school and at home throughout the summer.  Ellie, who will graduate in December,  has been accepted to serve in the Peace Corps and felt the cause tug on her heart strings. Families who benefit will be able to use any resources previously spent on shoes (if they had shoes) or school supplies to focus on food and other necessities instead.

Professor Kirchner travels to Guatemala every October and March and hopes to continue the trek until retirement. When asked about the program, she remarked “My students pay their own travel costs.  We stay with host families and eat at their tables.  No proselytizing is permitted so our work speaks for us.”

Maupin Travel will be collecting school supplies and shoes throughout the months of August and September on behalf of Professor Kirchner and her wonderful group of students at both our corporate and Cameron Village offices.