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A confidence boost for Suffolk youth

A Suffolk group that encourages local youth to succeed made sure they would triumph while looking sharp.

Enlightened Minds Mentoring held a Back to School Sneaker Drive to provide new clothes for children that otherwise couldn’t afford them. Donated gift cards and money let about 30 children receive a brand-new pair of sneakers each, according to program coordinator Albert Hill.

The children were a mix of Enlightened Minds Mentoring youth, Salvation Army of Suffolk kids, and several young girls with chaperones.  All of them came to Chesapeake Square Mall on Saturday to get properly fitted for the school year.

Karl Wilkins, associate minister at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Chesapeake, purchased new outfits for young men at Burlington Coat Factory. Others enjoyed clothing selections from other mall outlets with a $50 budget each.

Volunteers brought the children to Footlocker so they could each buy a pair of shoes under $100. Some bought Nikes, Jordans or Vans, and in some cases, they were much better fits than their current pairs.

“Some of these kids actually had shoes that were too big for them, so they didn’t know their shoe sizes,” Hill said.

Benjamin Blount, a 17-year-old Lakeland High School senior, picked out a pair of low-top, black-and-white Nike sneakers.

“They’re very sturdy,” Blount said. “They’re good, comfortable shoes.”

Enlightened Minds volunteers mentor youth on avoiding bad situations, making good choices and succeeding both in and out of the classroom. Volunteers advocate appropriate behavior, associations, focus and respect for authority figures.

“We talked about setting personal goals for themselves this year,” he said. “They want to make honor roll, they want to prepare for SOLs this year, and some of the older kids talked about preparing for college or the military.”

He said children can be ridiculed for what they wear at the start of the school year. These new clothes are opportunities to build confidence in themselves and improve academically.

“Everyone has school supply drives, but as a young kid in school, your self-esteem is boosted by how you look,” Hill said. “That confidence can lead to your ability to be more active in school.”

Blount had been with the program since he started at Lakeland High School. He said he has learned something new at every meeting, with Hill mentoring him.

The high school senior is now pursuing a career in the U.S. Marine Corps, and he credits Hill for encouraging him every step of the way.

“He always said, ‘Do your work, because it’s going to pay off in the end,’” Blount said.