Hunter on a mission with foot soldiers

January 31, 2008 at 6:57 pm Leave a comment

Source: IndyStar

It can be a strain to hear IUPUI men’s basketball coach Ron Hunter’s voice in a crowded gymnasium filled with bouncing balls and squeaking shoes, but he’s about to make a point without making a sound. Barefoot, in fact.Hunter has joined an international walk to take shoes to 10 million children, some of whom live in Indianapolis.

He hopes his decision to coach Thursday night’s home game without shoes is the first step to raising awareness to an overshadowed need.With the help of Samaritan’s Feet, a Christian-based group in Charlotte, N.C., Hunter’s goal is to raise 40,000 pairs of new shoes during February, which is Black History Month.”Dr. Martin Luther King had the courage and the faith to make a difference, and I hope that’s what I’m about,” Hunter said. “I want to use my passion to make a difference. I want people to feel it.” Emmanuel Ohonme, or “Manny” as he is known, founded the nonprofit Samaritan’s Feet in 2003 on the premise that 300 million children in the world are without shoes, many in impoverished regions where ringworm and other diseases are a continuous threat.

The organization’s motto is straightforward: “Give a shoe, change a life.”

Todd Melloh, an Indianapolis resident who works in the local office as director of marketing, thought it would be ideal to use basketball to spread the message. He and Hunter are friends. Melloh said he called Hunter at home late one night, and the coach accepted immediately.
“It has really changed everything that I am and how I think about things,” Hunter said. “I realize how fortunate I am.”
Ohonme came from Lagos, Nigeria, where he played games without shoes until he was 9. A visitor from Wisconsin gave him his first pair. Ohonme became a standout athlete in his country and received a basketball scholarship from the University of North Dakota. He earned undergraduate and master’s degrees, became an ordained minister and led a software technology business.
But on a trip home for his father’s funeral in 1997, Ohonme visited a park where children were playing basketball in bare feet, just as he had. Emotionally charged, he realized that it was time for him to make a difference.
“In 2003, I left the comforts of my job to start this,” he said of the nonprofit entity that has six full-time employees and about 100 regular volunteers. “Our goal was 10 million shoes in 10 years, but we’re already more than halfway there in just four years.
“I chose to make a difference in my life, and there are others now doing the same.”
Hunter, who has been to Lagos, is now one of those foot soldiers. Other coaches, including those at Butler, Indiana and Purdue, also have been contacted about participating. Nike, which provides IUPUI with its shoes, has been approached.
“What coach Hunter is doing is bigger than sports,” Ohonme said. “Him helping is inspiring hope not only to the cause but to others who are only learning about it for the first time.”
Rev. Andrea Leininger of Bethel United Methodist Church, 5252 W. 52nd Street, vows not only to attend Thursday’s game without shoes, she promises to preach that way Sunday, too. She has asked her 300-member congregation to stand alongside her in the cause — shoeless, of course — and she seeks even more support.
In a newsletter distributed last week, Leininger has asked Indiana’s 1,215 United Methodist churches and its 225,000 members to similarly skip the shoes and join the walk.
“I’m working on a sermon about . . . what it takes to make a difference in the world,” she said. “Easy. Do something like this.”
Supporters can bring new shoes to IUPUI’s 7 p.m. game or make a donation on Samaritan’s Feet’s Web site (samaritansfeet.org). Shoes are priced at $29.99 — 85 percent of which goes to the shoes — but the organization will accept any brand, as long as they are new. A fundraiser will be held Thursday at noon at the University Place Conference Center and Hotel at IUPUI.
Rev. Clarence Moore of Northside New Era Baptist Church, 517 W. 30th Street, has heard Hunter’s call, too, and his 1,200-member congregation, which includes Hunter and Colts coach Tony Dungy, will fall in line.
The church’s youth group will attend Thursday’s game and Moore will preach Sunday without shoes, although he concedes he might stick with socks.
“It’s one of the most basic needs that we don’t think much about it,” Moore said of footwear. “We know about the homeless, but what about those without shoes?”
Moore’s introduction to the cause was met with an instant local need. An unemployed homeless woman with 12 children recently interviewed on television was brought to his church. The children needed shoes. Moore made the call.
“Thanks to Manny and coach Hunter, we put shoes on those children the very next Sunday at church,” he said. “It was a powerful moment.”
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