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Midvale Journal

Copperview students get new shoes during RSL stadium field trip

Feb 09, 2024 12:54PM ● By Julie Slama

America First President & CEO Thayne Shaffer helps a Copperview student with a new pair of Adidas after he and his classmates toured the stadium and saw Real Salt Lake’s MSL trophy. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Zac MacMath gets a new pair of cleats about every two months—and he said he’s still excited to try them on.

“Getting a new pair of cleats is one of the best feelings for me,” he said while watching Copperview Elementary students try on new pairs of Adidas shortly before their winter break. “This is cool to see all the kids interacting with Santa and obviously lighting up when they get a new pair of shoes. I think we all get that same feeling with a new pair of shoes, having them fit, seeing the new colors. Most of these kids wear white tennis shoes, but the cameos are great shoes too. For me, helping these kids and seeing their reaction when they open the box is the best. It’s just very cool to be a part of this.”

MacMath was helping with the America First Credit Union’s Warm the Soles shoe program at America First stadium where RSL and the Utah Royals play.

“Not a lot of these kids have recognized me, but they all know Leo,” he said. “They’re also excited to talk to Santa.”

America First President & CEO Thayne Shaffer stood up after fitting new tennis shoes on a Copperview student. 

“This is a great example of two partners working together to do something that we couldn’t pull off separately,” he said about the program where they collect funds to buy shoes for schoolchildren in need. “America First has been doing Warm the Soles for 29 years. Now we’ve got this great partner in Real Salt Lake, and they invited us here to give the kids a little bit of a field trip that they normally wouldn’t get and make it more of an experience. So, we thought we would up the game a little bit, bring them here to see the stadium and let the kids have fun while getting their new shoes.”

Shaffer said it touches his heart to hear the kids’ stories.

“There was a kid who was looking at the colors, and he saw the cameos and he told me, ‘I love cameo because I’m sneaky,’” Shaffer said. “And then I heard a little girl say, ‘You don’t know how much better I’m going to be at soccer because of these shoes.’ We had another girl earlier today whose shoes were too small. She was used to them being tight, we had a hard time convincing her to get bigger ones. The best part are the kids, their smiles, this joy; I love it. These shoes mean a lot to them; it seems to lift them. Sometimes kids show up to these wearing the shoes they got last year. It’s fun to see their smiles and watch them walk away with a shiny new pair of shoes.”

About 25 America First employees, along with others from Real Salt Lake, Utah Royals and Copperview faculty, staff and administration, were helping about 340 students try on shoes. Earlier, America First employees helped school officials size students’ feet.

“Almost all of that is volunteer hours for our employees,” Shaffer said. “Today, the kids are all getting Adidas. RSL gets preferential pricing from Adidas, so when we were talking to them about things we could do together, that was one of the things they said they could bring to the kids here. So we’re paying about 60% of what we would pay in the open market, and that lets us spread our dollars further and give shoes to more kids.”

RSL President John Kimball, who also was fitting shoes on children’s feet, said when America First “brought this to us, we asked, ‘Is there any way we can be involved?’ This is exactly what we want to do for the community and to use our facility with our great partnership, we feel lucky. We have Zac, Nick (Rimando) and Michelle (Vasconcelos) here, and the kids are seeing the field and the locker rooms. But it’s a little bit lower than meeting Santa Claus and walking out with a brand-new pair of high-end Adidas. Bringing joy to these kids is what the season is all about.”

Copperview was chosen because of its proximity to the stadium as well as being a Title I school, said America First Foundation Executive Director Amber Greenwell.

“What’s cool about this is with our partnership with RSL, we decided to offer the entire school a field trip of a lifetime, giving them a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium, see the locker rooms and go down on the pitch,” she said. “They’re meeting some players and the mascots and having that one-on-one connection that even if they come to a game, they wouldn’t get. Plus, they’re visiting with Santa, having a healthy lunch and then getting a new pair of shoes this holiday season. It’s an opportunity not just for a few students, but the entire student body. This is an experience these kids may never experience again, and it’s important that we, as corporate partners, build a stronger community, and that starts with getting involved with the kids.”

Greenwell, who has been with the company 22 years, said Warm the Soles program kicks off every year in November to “make sure that those kids are getting a good pair of shoes during our winter months. We know there are some kids who will have cut off the fronts of their tennis shoes to make them fit. These kiddos who may get shoes in August already have their shoes hammered. We had a few already today who have had their toes scrunched in, so we want to make sure that they’re taken care of all year long. We still have some of our coldest months that are ahead of us, so we want to make sure those kids are prepared for winter.”

She said it’s rewarding to help the

“One little guy hugged me and said, ‘Thank you; my feet no longer hurt,’” Greenwell said. “That is a real thing, a real individual out who needs help. For me, it’s taking that heavy burden off these littles so that they can focus on their education and not have to bear the weight of the world. Because when you’re hungry and you are not clothed properly, your focus on education comes secondary to your immediate essential needs. Being able to put a smile on a kid’s face and lifting that heavy burden of not getting lunch or not having a new pair of shoes, we’re evening the playing field for these kiddos who may be less fortunate.” 

This is the first time America First has given shoes to students at the stadium. Typically, administrators at schools and school districts identify who needs shoes and they deliver pairs gift-wrapped.
“This year, we will be delivering shoes to 41 different schools in five states this year, totaling 3,200 pairs of shoes,” she said, adding shoes will be delivered to students in Jordan and Granite school districts.

Principal Colleen Smith said America First reached out to the community school facilitator Jenna Landward after learning that 70% of the students at Copperview are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Currently, through an application process, all students receive meals at no cost.

Landward said the opportunity was offered three weeks before the Dec. 7 visit, with enough time to get parent permission slips and size students’ feet.

“The kids were really excited about the opportunity to visit the stadium and getting new shoes; that’s always exciting for them,” she said.

First grade teacher Shelby Stanger said this was her students’ first field trip this year.

“They started off being excited, as it’s the first time they’ve ridden the school bus,” she said. “Then, for many of them, it’s the first time being here at the stadium, on the field, seeing the players, the mascots, Santa and now, getting the shoes. Their excitement keeps building. It’s amazing; they’re giving us such a great gift of an experience and shoes they can take home. They’ll remember this forever. All the kids love soccer. They play in at recess every day, so this is just incredible.”

Many of her students checked out their favorite players’ lockers and admired the MLS trophy RSL won in 2009. They learned how the pitch is taken care of, and a few kids identified former goalkeeper Nick Rimando handing out shoes after seeing his picture on the wall.

“I love being a partner with America First to be able to bring these kids shoes right here at the stadium,” he said. “They’re thrilled to see Santa Claus, and when they hear him say they’re getting a brand-new pair of shoes, there’s excitement in their eyes and joy on their faces. To be a part of that with America First, Real Salt Lake and the Utah Royals, it’s really special during this season of giving.” 

Utah Royals forward Michele Vasconcelos, who grew up playing soccer while attending Sandy schools, including winning three state titles before graduating from Alta High, said the day brought her joy.

“They’re really excited about seeing the different colors of the shoes, telling me they talked to Santa and how big the stadium is,” she said. “They’re so grateful. One kid told me, ‘These are the best shoes ever.’ Another kid said, ‘This is the best day of my life.’ It’s fun to see how excited they are about simple things.” λ