Myriah Volk knows what it takes to win. She also knows what can impede achievement and believes with the right tools and confidence, success is possible.
With the determination to empower youth in fitness and also support their self-assurance, Volk started the Shoes 4 Kids movement where she raises money to get athletic shoes for children around Sonoma County who cannot afford them.
As one of the most highly decorated multi-sport athletes to come out of Sonoma County, Volk said it was in 2013 while writing a speech for the Healdsburg High School Hall of Fame that she realized she had to give back to the youth.
“It was in the reflective process and also being honored in that way that I felt driven to give back,” Volk said.
Volk, who teaches P.E. at the Reach School in Sebastopol, said she kept seeing her students coming to class with inadequate and damaged sneakers. She said it was a troubled fifth grade boy who came to her and asked her to duct tape his shoes that inspired her to start the program.
As she fought back tears and walked to the office to get electrical tape, she said that was the moment she knew she had to do something to help. Volk immediately started a GoFundMe page to raise money and awareness around the need for students to have proper footwear for athletic classes in schools. She said that she has also found sometimes there is not a need in the family, but instead athletic shoes are sometimes not a priority.
Office Manager from Guerneville School Patty Grimm said that although many people call Volk the “Shoe Fairy,” she is more like the “Shoe Angel.” Grimm said that while the majority of students don’t need help, some kids at the school do come to school with their soles flopping open.
“She’s amazing and she is offering these kids a gift,” Grimm said. “ I don’t think the children that get these shoes from Myriah have ever even had nice shoes like the ones they get. It’s such a beautiful opportunity.”
Volk said shoes can also be a status symbol, especially for boys, and many times she has seen students walk taller, run faster and feel more confident socially.
“There is a psychological part to this as well,” Volk said. “They feel more equipped and better about themselves.”
Junior Varsity El Molino girls basketball coach Chris Westover said Volk has been a big part of the team’s success and agrees that proper athletic shoes can be a game changer for athletes.
“It may seem like a small thing, but shoes are the most dynamic aspect of the sport and the most critical piece of the uniform,” Westover said. “Kids feel safer and also feel just as high on the totem pole as the other players when they have the right shoes to play. It definitely brings their confidence up.”
Westover also coaches the Windsor CYO basketball team and said he knew a mother who was facing monetary issues while going through a divorce. Her son was playing in shoes with no athletic support and Westover told her that he knew of a woman who could get new shoes for her boy.
“Myriah just totally came through and this is the first year he is ever playing,” Westover said.
The organization is growing and Volk has personally delivered 200 pairs of shoes to schools throughout the county.
Principles, teachers, office managers, P.E. teachers and coaches contact Volk with the name of the student, their shoe size and color preference. Volk takes the information, goes to a vendor like Big 5 and then delivers the shoes to the student usually at the school. She said she is in the process of expanding her vendor list and is always looking for ways to expand.
Students have been hesitant about asking for shoes and she works hard to take the shame out of receiving what is needed. Volk said she is working to bring parents into the process and wants to start sending a letter home to the parents about the organization.
“I tell the kids, this isn’t about money. If you need shoes, I get shoes,” Volk said. “The network is more in the school and the parents don’t always know what I do.”
There are also many other schools that she wants to connect with and hopes to expand throughout the county. Volk said once the program is refined countywide, she doesn’t see why it couldn’t expand in one way or another.
“I really want to reach out to other communities in the county, so that they know the program exists,” Volk said. “ I know that it’s needed. My goal is to be in every school by the Fall, if possible, so that every kid that needs a new pair of shoes for the beginning of school has one. I want to be in every town in the county.”
Volk said it is her experience of being on a team that taught her what kind of person she wanted to be. She said that although you may not agree with others, you need to find common ground and that is what has shaped the woman she is today.
“Those lessons of working together are more important than winning or losing, and are the things that I have carried with me into my life,” Volk said.
It is that aspect of working together that Volk also tries to instill in the students she works with. Support is a big part of teamwork and Volk wants other students to look out for each other so their peers can get what they need.
“I want students to know that they could see a kid pass them in the hallway with bad shoes and they can call me and that kid can have shoes the next day,” Volk said.
If interested in sponsoring Shoes 4 Kidz, making a donation or knowing more about the program, go to shoes4kidz.com.