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Star House and Rocky Brands Distribute New Boots to Homeless Youth of Columbus

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Star House and Rocky Brands Distribute New Boots to Homeless Youth of ColumbusPhoto by Stu Nicholson.
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The homeless youth who come to OSU’s Star House on Corrugated Way do a tremendous amount of walking.

“We give them bus passes when we can,” said Margaret DeLaurentis, a therapist at Star House. “But most of them walk quite a bit to almost everywhere that they go, and their shoes wear out fast, and they tend to wear fashionable shoes that don’t last very long and because they can’t afford a good pair of boots.”

For two years now, Rocky Brands out of Nelsonville has brought shipments of boots and socks up to Columbus for the youth who frequent Star House. Last year, Rocky fitted about 60 kids for a new pair of boots. On Saturday, more than 80 had signed up to receive new boots at Star House. Jordan Gottke, marketing director for Rocky Brands, said the boots were chosen based on comfort, insulation, water-resistance and winter-readiness.

Giving back to the community, said Gottke, has “really been a big part of the company culture.”

Stu Nicholson of MurphyEpson, a public relations agency working with Rocky, was also on hand to distribute boots at Saturday’s event.

Photo by Stu Nicholson.

Photo by Stu Nicholson.

“Last year we had a kid that came in…and he had, I mean absolutely the worst looking pair of boots you’ve ever seen in your life, I mean…they were about ready to fall apart,” said Nicholson. “And he just said, no I really don’t think I need a new pair of boots, something like that. But the more everybody talked with him and he said, all right well I’ll try a pair on, and he walked out with a brand new pair of boots on his feet.”

“You could see a change. You could see, you walk a little taller. Somebody engaged me in conversation today, even that is significant,” added Nicholson. “I’ve worked with the homeless before, in a previous job, and…just the fact that somebody takes the time to talk to you and recognize that you’re a human being…you can’t put a price tag on that.”

Ariana and Whitney have been coming to the Star House since last February when they heard about the center from some friends at the homeless shelter where they were staying. Since then, they’ve become active, social members of the Star House community – “the go-to people here, somewhat” according to Ariana.

Both girls just barely missed last year’s boot fitting at the old Star House, and were happy to get new boots this year.

“I’m not from Columbus, I’m originally from Memphis. So when I came here I had Nike tennis shoes, like the shell tops. And I’ve been wearing those, like those are the only pair of shoes I have,” said Whitney. “I had some boots but they were raggedy when I came up here. So I mean, doing the excessive walking just made them just trashy, so then I switched to my shell top Nikes. And I’d, like, walk through the snow, it’s been like negative 14 degrees and my feet are freezing, so I’m pretty excited.”

Star House is the city’s only drop-in center for homeless youth, a safe space open 24 hours a day for teenagers who want to get off the streets and rest, eat, watch TV or just be around other people. A lot has changed for the center since moving to its new location in November. The new building said DeLaurentis, has a medical room, an art room, a gym, a computer room, a private telephone booth and much more space for privacy.

Photo by Jesse Bethea.

Photo by Jesse Bethea.

“You can tell when you walk in here that expense was put into this place,” said DeLaurentis. “One kid said, ‘it’s top-notch stuff.’ And to have someone say, they bought the top-notch stuff for us…I think it helps me do my job better because we’re already working on making them feel whole again and to feel worthy, to feel like that they’re capable and that they deserve to be treated and to be respected and to be…in a presence where…they got the top-notch stuff.”

DeLaurentis continued, “It almost can’t start without helping them build the self-esteem and the confidence that they need to be able to do a job interview or to manage the social service systems and being interviewed and waiting in line on things. You really have to feel good about yourself to have the stamina to go through all that.”

“It’s a safe place to come to, you can have fun, make new friends and just hang out and stay out of the cold for the most part,” said Ariana. She added that it usually takes a new person, “about a week or so to get comfortable with their surroundings because, you know, everybody’s from the streets, there’s always something new, and you don’t know everybody so you just want to sit back and observe who you want to interact with.”

Whitney added she and Ariana have become members of the Star House Youth Council.

“It’s like a government body for the Star House, made up of youth from the Star House,” said Whitney. “So we have a president, vice president, you know, the same way a regular government body would. We’re just the mediators between the youth and the administration.”

They added that the Council is currently going through a voting process – the “Star House Caucus,” as Whitney called it.

“Star House is a really great place for youth to come to and really feel just accepted,” said Whitney. “It’s a judgment-free zone so we can each intermingle and interact with each other on pretty decent terms, so it’s pretty awesome.”

More information on Star House can be found at www.osustarhouse.com.

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