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VIProfile: Kelton and Layken Sanders

Story by Lee Rennick

Over the last five years, Kelton and Layken Sanders have collected 100,000 shoes for Soles4Souls. That is the equivalent to 32 average homes filled from floor to ceiling. An amazing feat for anyone, but this was accomplished by two now high school students. It is a project they began when they were just nine and 12 years old.

Kelton, a junior at Rockvale High School and his sister, who is a freshman, began their journey to this grand adventure when Kelton asked for food to be donated to the food bank instead of gifts for his 10th birthday. Layken, who has always looked up to her older brother, decided she wanted to do something similar for her birthday the following year.

“I wanted to do something different,” said Layken. “I wanted to do something that would help people in other cultures, other parts of the world. I was doing research and found Soles4Souls. I liked that they were local, but helped impoverished people around the world. I discussed it with Kelton and then I told my Mom I wanted to donate to them for my birthday. She supported the idea.”

Soon the two siblings decided that they both wanted shoe donations to the organization to be their birthday gifts the next year. After a few more birthdays of shoe donations, the family visit the Soles4Souls facility in Nashville and learned of the Ambassador Program. With new goals to be ambassadors, they made bigger plans.

“I said let’s do 10,000,” said their mother, Jeni Sanders, who has been their “big man behind the scenes” from the start, “but they had other ideas. I thought there was no way that we’d even collect 10,000 shoes, but the kids were determined to collect 50,000.

When they jumped in with both feet making posters and fl yers, reaching out to friends and classmates, I saw how determined they were and began to help them.” It was not an easy road. There were lots of stops and starts, but as more and more people joined in helping them make their goal, they pressed on. They learned to ask for help and work with other people.

“My classes at Barfield Elementary began helping,” said Jeni, “and then the whole school. Tatyana Green and her family and Abdou Kattih and his daughter, Sana, were also huge helps.”

Many weekends when the kids would have liked to have fun with their friends, instead they were traveling six hours round trip to collect cars full of shoes from churches in other states.

A little more than half way through their journey, Soles4Souls off ered the family a chance to go to Haiti and see what their hard work meant to those receiving the shoes.

“I really didn’t want to go,” said Kelton, “but the trip changed me. I wanted to go back again. It changed my perspective on life. I saw that you do not have to be rich to do something good for others. Doing good for others doesn’t have to be a big thing. A lot of small things brought together can have a huge impact.”

This past fall, Good Morning America learned of their efforts and a producer asked the family to come to New York to tell their story. At the time, they were about 6,000 pairs of shoes shy of their goal.

“They were wonderful to us,” said Jeni. “Michael Strahan knew the whole story. They all did. They talked to us like regular people. They were so kind.”

“I was excited,” said Layken.

“I was terrified,” said Kelton.

While on the show, Good Moring America made their dream become a reality.

“DSW donated the last 5,000 shoes we needed to complete the 50,000,” said Jeni, “and then they matched our goal to bring our total to 100,000 shoes!”

“That’s a lot of shoes,” said Kelton on the broadcast, as the family tried to grasp the reality of their five-year mission coming to an end and better than they ever hoped.

“You never know who you are inspiring when you do something like this,” said Layken. “Or how much of an impact your efforts will have. When we started the collection of shoes five years ago, we never realized the reach of our efforts.”

In spite of all of the attention the pair have received for their efforts, they have remained grounded. Kelton loves to run track and cross country. He spends time listening to the classic tunes of the Beach Boys and Bruce Springsteen with his friends and looking stylish in the latest fashion trends. Layken is a straight A student and has gone to national and international cheer competitions where her team has placed in the top 10. It their spare time, they are working to support their younger siblings who have been inspired by their efforts.

“My little brother, Chaston who is 10 and sister Paisley, who is six, have started their own shoe drive to donate 50,000 shoes to Soles4Souls,” said Layken. “We are supporting them, but we want to start collecting something else on a national level. We don’t know what. But maybe we’ll have a contest with our siblings, see who can make their goal first.”

“It feels good to help people,” said Kelton.

To learn more about Layken and Kelton’s story and how you can help their younger siblings complete their quest, check out their Facebook page at Sanders Family Shoe Drive, or on Instagram at @thelaykensanders or @fratboykelton. See their Good Morning America appearance here.

As Michael Strahan says on the broadcast, “You can give back at any age.”

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