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Happy Feet Equals Learning Feet

A new Instructor in Nursing at USI has combined his journalism background with a desire to make his community a better place, resulting in the formation of a new charitable organization that provides new shoes for Posey County school children.

Brandon Cole, MSN, RN, earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from USI in 2007. After a few years of full-time newspaper work, he decided to change careers, going back to school to study nursing. He first attended Ivy Tech, then completed USI’s RN to BSN program in 2017, which led to his master’s in Nursing Management and Leadership from USI in 2020.

Shortly before joining the USI Nursing faculty on September 30, 2022, Cole was approached by someone from his hometown of Morganfield, Kentucky, with a request to start a Posey County chapter of Happy Feet Equals Learning Feet. This nonprofit group provides new shoes to students in need with a goal to make them happier and more motivated learners.

Cole used his skills of a journalist to get the word out to the Mount Vernon community via an article published in the Posey County News, which resulted in an outpouring of volunteer support and donations. He said that Amy Smith of the Posey County Community Foundation read his story in the Posey County News and asked to be on the Happy Feet team. Smith contacted major employers, small businesses and churches in the area, which stepped up for the shoe project.

In just six weeks, the Happy Feet project was able to provide 262 pairs of new, quality shoes from Shoe Sensation to deserving students at West, Farmersville and Marrs elementary schools, and an additional 75 pairs were split equally between the three schools.

"We were not just handing out shoes, we were delivering a personal experience that ended with a smile and a pair of shoes that the student selected."  – Brandon Cole

Cole said he was unprepared for the emotional moments that occurred when volunteers unloaded the trucks at the schools on September 26 and 27. He said students were greeted at the door and led to a seat in which they were sized by Shoe Sensation team members.

“After the students knew their size, a volunteer led them to a table with the correct-sized shoes, and the two had a conversation. The volunteers were cheerful and asked the students what was their favorite color or what type of shoe they liked,” said Cole. “The children were shown different options until that perfect smile streaked across their face. The students were complemented on how well their shoes looked. The students were encouraged to walk around, jump, run and see how the shoes felt. Once the student was satisfied with the shoes, they were given three pairs of socks and helped to the check-out station.”

Cole said the students were given a black bag to put their old or new shoes in, along with their socks that would fit easily into their back packs.

“The volunteers witnessed pure joy in these children’s faces,” he said. “A few of the students danced, some sang, but all left that room feeling a little more confident, and that’s what we wanted to see. To complete the experience of visiting a new shoe store, we thanked the children for coming in to see us. We were not just handing out shoes, we were delivering a personal experience that ended with a smile and a pair of shoes that the student selected.”

Cole and his wife, Tammy, have two sons, Abel, 5, and Ezra, 3, and are expecting a third son, Israel, in January 2023.

When asked why he chose nursing, Cole said that helping others was his main motivation. “I really enjoy talking to people, helping people and thought this was a way that I could use my mind and my personality to help others on their journey back to their personal health goals,” he said. “This is a career that made my family proud and will show my children that they can go as far in life as they are willing to work. My wife deserves much credit. She gave me encouragement when I was working full-time and finishing my MSN.”

Having pulled off this year’s project in a short amount of time, Cole and his Happy Feet team are already planning for the 2023 Shoe Days in Posey County. “With the generosity of this community, I am truly excited thinking about how big next year is going to be and how many kids we will be able to help,” he said. “With this much success there will be no hiding our Happy Feet. I’m one of those people that believe nothing happens by chance. I believe that God puts us in the path of those needing help, can help, or want to help.”

In November, Happy Feet Equals Learning Feet was awarded a $3,000 check from the Posey County Community Foundation’s 2022 Community Good Grants Program to jumpstart fundraising for next year’s shoe project. “That is equal to 100 pairs of shoes for underprivileged students in Posey County,” said Cole. “A total of 28 grants were awarded, and people were able to learn about local non-profit organizations and what they were doing to make our community a better place. It was an exciting afternoon. Happy Feet Equals Learning Feet is a special part of my life.”

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