- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

AIKEN, S.C. (AP) - A sweet, funny 4-year-old girl couldn’t stop smiling as she tried on a new pair of tennis shoes - even as she kept asking if she could actually keep them.

Yes, she could. Volunteers with North Augusta-based Laces 4 Love Ministry brought shoes to more than 40 preschool children at Head Start in Aiken.

The organization started 13 years ago for that specific purpose, through the First Baptist Church of North Augusta, said Ginger Dickert, who founded Laces 4 Love with Mark Owens. They rely on donations and other services to purchase shoes.

“We started out with 60 children,” Dickert said. “Now we serve 3,000 at Head Start, in Nicaragua and West Virginia. These are places with so much need.”

Laces 4 Love is adding Guatemala to its charitable work for the first time in January 2015. Later this year, the volunteers will take as many as 600 pairs of shoes to rural villages in Nicaragua.

“We’ve gone there for seven years, working with an organization there that helps kids who are orphans,” said Owens. “We go to places in West Virginia where they are trying to survive with the coal mines closed.”

The volunteers also provide shoes to the other five Head Start programs in Aiken and Barnwell Counties.

The trip to the Aiken facility led to feelings of joy for both the children and adults. The kids looked in wonder as the volunteers helped them get their shoes on and check the sizes. Beverly Ashley, a Head Start administrator, celebrates the organization’s visits every year.

“It’s a blessing with their efforts and kind generosity,” she said. “We take a pair of shoes for granted, but it’s so rewarding to see a light on the children’s faces.”

Initially, Dickert didn’t see any reason for a shoe donation program. Soon, she and Owens realized other churches and organizations donate clothes, but have difficulty obtaining shoe sizes. With Laces 4 Love focusing only on shoes, the ministry can get the sizes in advance.

“This is the great joy of my life,” Dickert said. “I will do it as long as the good Lord lets me. I love these children, and I love being able to make them happy.”

Sharon Fleeman joined the ministry seven years ago and after her first mission, “You are a lifer. I let the children know they are loved, and that can make all the difference in the world. I feel like I take their hearts with me.”


Information from: Aiken Standard, https://www.aikenstandard.com

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