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[PHOTO] Stepping Up: Summer 2008

A cause gone global

Hunter coached a men's basketball game barefoot to collect shoes for the Samaratan's Feet nonprofit

As children, we're taught to "put our best foot forward" to achieve our life's goals. This past winter, IUPUI basketball coach Ron Hunter went that old adage one better: he put two feet forward. And he did it for a worthy cause.

Hunter's simple act — removing his shoes and socks for one cold, wintry Indiana night, then coaching a Jaguar men's basketball game against Summit League rival Oakland — began as one man's idea to show people on the IUPUI campus and in the Indianapolis community what daily life is like for millions of children in the poorest regions of Africa and other continents.

And a nation — indeed, the world — took notice.

Hunter hoped his efforts would generate 40,000 pairs of new sneakers to support Samaritan's Feet, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing 10 million pairs of shoes for children over the next decade.

But by the time the clock in The Jungle hit 0:00 on that wintry night, Hunter's goal was a distant memory. By then, more than 125,000 pairs of shoes had been donated or pledged, with more on the way, thanks to an explosion of international media coverage combined with a healthy dose of human kindness.

The coach's heartfelt cause had gone global. And because Hunter — inspired by the life story and dreams of Samaritan's Feet founder Emmanuel "Manny" Ohonme — decided to do his part, the ripples roll onward.

View photos, videos and more on IUPUI's "Barefoot for a cause" website

The "barefoot coach" success story caught many by surprise. But not at IUPUI, where the passion to help others is a daily part of campus life. Officially, IUPUI calls it "civic engagement;" others call it public service or volunteerism. But by any terminology, it's about unleashing the talents and efforts of hundreds, even thousands, of students who "learn by doing." In the end, it's the embodiment of one of the world's oldest lessons: be a good neighbor.

Unusual notoriety

Hunter and his campus friends hoped his shoe drive would garner some local attention —newspapers, radio or area TV newscasts — to encourage donations. But his efforts quickly morphed into something quite unexpected: a cause that touched the hearts of millions of people across the country and around the world.

The IUPUI coach made multiple appearances on ESPN TV and radio shows, on the sports network's various Web sites, and in ESPN the Magazine. Hunter's story was in Sports Illustrated, both its print and web incarnations. He was in The Sporting News.

In the weeks surrounding the Oakland game, IUPUI students were out in force to support Coach Hunter's efforts.

But the world of sports couldn't contain Hunter's cause: to change the world one foot — OK, two — at a time. Before long, the story was on CNN, on MSNBC, on the veritable alphabet soup of networks and web systems that populate cyberspace.

The "soles for souls" search resonated on news programs across the land and around the world; he even was chosen ABC-TV's "Person of the Week." (video)

With each appearance, the story grew, and so did contributions of shoes and money. And each mention spotlighted the idea that a college campus can become a training ground for students, teaching them to think in terms of possibilities, not limitations.

Whether it's Hunter's shoe drive; healthrelated outreach efforts in Kenya, Mexico or Honduras; or building Indianapolis-area homes through Habitat for Humanity, civic engagement is a crucial element in IUPUI's commitment to be part of the Indianapolis community.

And it takes many forms.

There are special events that raise funds, heighten awareness of causes or health challenges, or simply invigorate the city's cultural climate. There are volunteer projects that meet the short-term and long-term needs of people throughout Indianapolis. There are partnerships linking the campus with area governments, corporations and businesses, and civic groups.

Those connections make IUPUI part of the fabric of life in Indianapolis, and help the campus contribute to the future of people throughout the city and state, and — as Hunter's cause shows — beyond our borders.

Learn more about civic engagement at IUPUI: