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Santa Clarita Valley teen sparks national program

Posted: January 18, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 18, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Kayla Tinnuci, 17, is the founder of The Shoe Crew, a charity that works to offer new shoes to disenfranchised children and adults. She is a senior at Canyon High School and hopes the organization will continue to grow.

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By most standards, Kayla Tinucci, 17, was an average high school student. She attends Canyon High and is involved in several extra curricular clubs, including the National Honors Society and the Key Club. Planning for the future and college were her top priorities, that is until a few years ago.

During her sophomore year Tinucci became involved with A Place Called Home, a charity which offers a safe haven for disenfranchised teens in South Los Angeles. The charity also runs a program which offers dresses and suits for the prom to teens who can’t afford them.

Many wouldn’t have attended Prom otherwise; the cost of a formal gown, suit or tuxedo was far beyond what they or their parents could afford. All were astounded to be offered something so beautiful for the first time.

“It was really eye opening,” said Tinucci, of her involvement with the project. “They never had anything that nice before.”

It completely changed her outlook and had her asking: what else can she do to help?

“I realized so many kids need things all year round, not just prom dresses, but basic necessities, including shoes,” she said.

So Tinucci started The Shoe Crew in 2012, deciding to make it a summer project. She enlisted the help of her friends, her mother’s contacts in publicity and her contacts in the acting and entertainment industry. Then she began hosting charity events.

Roller-skating events, pool parties, character meet and greets; the price of admission at each event was a new pair of shoes.

Soon Tinucci and the crew collected more than 2,400 pairs of shoes. Her idea was a success.

The Shoe Crew arranged to be a part of A Place Called Home’s back to school event in August 2012. The project offers backpacks and school supplies to poor kids in L.A.

“Hundreds of families lined up to receive something that you or I would think of as simple,” she recalled.

This was the first year A Place Called Home offered a new pair of shoes to the children.

“For most, this was their first brand new pair of shoes they’ve ever received,” she said. “It was amazing to see their faces light up.”

Helping near and far

After that event Tinucci knew she had to continue the program. It no longer was a summer project, but now a new charity, established and run mostly by teens.

“I didn’t think it would end up changing my life in such a dramatic way,” she said.

Over the last year and a half the organization, in partnership with many other charity organizations, has given out more than 7,000 pairs of shoes valued at $180,000.

The Shoe Crew has worked with the L.A. Police Department, the Ronald McDonald House, A Gentle Barn, Real Life Church, Family Promise, the Hart School District and has touched the lives of children in Santa Clarita, the Watt’s projects, South Central L.A., victims of Hurricane Sandy and beyond.

Hannah and Gabriel Welch, 9 and 11, from Canyon Country got involved with the charity almost from the start.

They are the youngest members of the Shoe Crew and some of the hardest working.

“This has given them an amazing gratitude for the things they have,” said their mother Leah Welch. “It’s helped them want to do more to help others who don’t have as much as they do.”

Other chapters of the Shoe Crew began to spring up around the country very quickly. Friends were inspired and wanted to take the idea home. Now, there are chapters in Northern California, Colorado, Nebraska, Florida and New York; all run by teens.

“This showed me how fortunate I am,” said Tinucci, now a senior at Canyon. “No matter what I’ll always have people there for me. There are people out there that don’t have that same support, and I want to do everything I can to help those in need.”

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