Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

March 7, 2007:

Heather Hopkins ’99

Through a nonprofit organization she founded, Heather Hopkins ’99 provides new shoes and clothes to disadvantaged children. (Photo courtesy Heather Hopkins ’99)

PROFILE—Heather Hopkins ’99
Making the first day of school special

Like many new mothers, Heather Hopkins ’99 got her fair share of advice and anecdotes from her own mother after she gave birth to her daughter in 2004. “My mom started to tell me things about her childhood that I didn’t know before,” she says. “Some of the stories were really upsetting.”

Her mother, who grew up poor in a small, working-class town in New Hampshire, told Hopkins that she loathed school because she felt ashamed of her shabby clothes. She felt like a “nobody,” and some girls made fun of her. The first day of school was particularly worrisome: “She hated [it] so much that she often spent the whole summer worrying about it,” Hopkins says.

Inspired by her mother’s memories, in March of 2006 Hopkins founded My New Red Shoes, a nonprofit organization that provides underprivileged children in the San Francisco Bay Area with a new outfit to wear on the first day of school. By August Hopkins had raised $25,000, benefiting 354 children, half of whom live in homeless shelters. Donors, including individuals, foundations, corporate sponsors, and churches, gave new clothing and shoes or money in the form of gift cards to stores such as Old Navy, The Gap, and Banana Republic. My New Red Shoes distributed the items through social service agencies.

A 16-year-old homeless boy told Hopkins that the new clothes helped him look forward to school because he could feel “like just another kid” instead of standing out as disadvantaged. “That’s exactly how my mother wanted to feel,” says Hopkins.

Next fall, Hopkins aims to reach a thousand children in the Bay Area. Giving clothes may seem like a small gesture, but Hopkins remains committed to changing the first day of school for these children. “If someone had given me school clothes for my first day,” Hopkins’ mother told her, “I would have remembered it for the rest of my life.” P

By Nicole Oncina ’05

Nicole Oncina ’05 is a writer at the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in San Francisco.