Putting a Good Foot Forward

On January 26, families benefiting from both the Sturgeon Bay Head Start Program and the Door County Healthy Families program were asked to come in and “shop” for a brand new pair of NAOT shoes. This was made possible by Mary Stephens, the owner of “What Next?” in Fish Creek and Baileys Harbor, and the NAOT shoe corporation.

Over 200 pairs of shoes were donated to both programs by Stephens, who started the shoe donation to the programs in 2008.

“Mary is one of the top sellers of NAOT shoes, and it’s wonderful that she is able to do this for the families that benefit our programs,” says Kathy Schultz, who works as the Parent Educator for the Healthy Families program. “Many of our families do take part in the Altrusa ‘Back to School’ program, which provides children of those families with a pair of tennis shoes for the school year – but sometimes, that’s the only pair of shoes they have. This way, parents and children can pick out a dressier pair of shoes, which means a lot to the families.”

Both the Healthy Families and the Sturgeon Bay Head Start program are income-based, and many of the families participating in the programs are low-income families. The Healthy Families program begins while new parents are in the hospital and continues to serve them after they bring their newborn home, helping them with a myriad of issues from getting housing assistance and securing adequate food to offering emotional support to help new parents cope with the stress of caring for a newborn. Families are assigned a Family Support Worker, who will visit a family in their home once a week to answer any questions new parents may have. The services offered by Healthy Families are free to the parents.

“It’s really a resource to help with the challenges of parenting,” Schultz says. “Even under ‘good’ circumstances, it’s sometimes difficult for families to cope.”

The Head Start Program dovetails into the Healthy Families program nicely, and is a federally-funded early childhood program which has been in operation in Door County for more than 17 years. The program offers comprehensive child-development services for both low-income and special needs children ages three and four.

Stephens has also offered to donate some of the clothes sold in her shops to the mothers of the program’s families.

“Sometimes our mothers need clothes for job interviews, and they may not have something to wear,” Schultz says. “It’s a way to get the mothers out the door and out to that job interview with perhaps a bit more self-confidence then they might normally have.” For her, it’s amazing what a small gift like new shoes or clothing can mean to a family.

“A father came in to help pick out shoes for his daughter, and he was just so happy,” Schultz says. “It’s wonderful to know that this token of generosity is so much appreciated by our families.”

Other businesses are encouraged to donate to the Healthy Families/Head Start Program.

“There are many items that families with children are constantly in need of, especially things that children tend to lose or grow out of quickly, such as mittens or snow pants,” Schultz says. “Our program does everything from provide diapers to needy families as well as perform home safety checks to make sure they have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors in every room – so if any businesses would ever be able to help us out with those things, we would really appreciate it.”

People or businesses interested in making a donation to either program should contact Gina Felhofer at Healthy Families (920.746.9040) or Head Start Teacher Ann Grimmer (920.743.3699).