After knocking off her worn sneakers, Natasha Pineda, 10, eagerly waited to be fitted for a new pair of spearmint green Vans canvas flat shoes she had been eyeing.
On Saturday, after tying her shoelaces, Pineda showed off her new kicks to her “big sister” and mentor Dina Curasi, of Syosset. The shoes were courtesy of Renarts footwear and activewear in East Northport.
“I don’t have lots of shoes, and I really love these ones,” said Pineda, a fourth-grader at Woodward Parkway Elementary in Farmingdale. “Some kids just have one pair of shoes. Renarts is really making a difference here. I got new shoes and didn’t have to pay $50.”
Pineda was among the nearly 50 little brothers and sisters belonging to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island’s mentoring program to take home a new pair of shoes made by brands like Nike, Reebok, adidas, Timberland and Vans.
The giveaway, called Kicks for Kids, was the result of a conversation between Renarts co-owner Ankur Amin and creative director Chase Ceparano, a former “little brother.”
Because business had been doing well, Amin said wanted to do something for the community, but wasn’t sure where to start. That was when Ceparano offered to organize a shoe giveaway at the store.
“We were already thinking of a way to give back to the community, so when Chase came to us with an idea to give back to the organization that helped him when he was younger, how could we say no,” said Amin, 45, of Huntington. “We thought it was a great idea.”
At age 10, Ceparano lost his father to AIDS and was raised by his grandmother while his mother struggled with a terminal illness.
“I was avoiding school and my guidance counselor came to me and told me I was a good kid heading in a bad direction and connected me to Big Brothers Big Sisters,” said Ceparano, 28. “I made a promise to myself that when I had the opportunity to give back and pay it forward I would, and now Renarts has given me that chance.”
Mark Cox, chief development officer at BBBSLI, which pairs adult volunteers with children facing adversity in a mentoring program, said Saturday’s program “validates” the organization’s mission “to improve the quality of life for children and provide them with a role model.”
Asante Mills, 16, came by with his “big brother” Praveen Anumolu, 33, of Smithtown, who has mentored him for the past seven years, and left with a new pair of gray Vans suede shoes.
“I really needed someone there for me because my dad wasn’t around,” said Mills, of Deer Park, who joined the mentoring program to have a male role model in his life. “I’ve needed new shoes for a while now. To function day to day, it’s pretty important to have shoes and from the look on their faces I know these kids appreciate this as much as I do.”