Olivia Collins, left and Cruz Mendez of The Good Soles. Courtesy photo.

A group of Riverhead High School ninth-graders has begun a shoe drive to help the less fortunate keep shoes on their children’s feet.

Other student groups — about 12 in all —  are working to raise awareness of other social issues, such as AIDS, homelessness, the impacts of impaired driving on the families of victims and water pollution.

The youngsters are all ninth grade English students of Stephanie Piraino.

Her four classes read the Mitch Albom book, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” a book about finding yourself and your purpose in life, Piraino said.

“These students are at a crossroads, becoming adults, preparing to enter the real world,” she said.

She challenged them to find a social issue “outside of their comfort zone,” and develop a mission for action. The assignment would teach them about the responsibility of social activism. They would learn how to speak professionally and how to write a press release — and the importance of being accurate and thoughtful in their writing. It would also teach lessons about the responsible use of social media. The kids even made websites and Instagram accounts for their groups.

“We finished it by by trying to take it out into the community, to their peers, or church or neighborhood,” Piraino said.

With a background in journalism, Piraino tries to incorporate any type of “real-world writing” into her lessons at every opportunity. It helps students understand the relevance of their studies, she said.

Several groups sent press releases to RiverheadLOCAL announcing their projects.

Cruz Mendez of Riverhead announced “The Good Soles,” a “student-based group working to make change by spreading awareness about people who need shoes.”

The group is conducting a shoe drive at the high school, to collect footwear for needy families.

Cruz, 14, said his group’s project grew out of a conversation he had with his friend and group member Monica Silva.

“My mother didn’t have shoes growing up in El Salvador,” Cruz said. “My friend’s father grew up in Colombia without shoes. We take shoes for granted, but there are people in our own community who can’t afford them,” he said. “So we decided to do this.”

Classmate Olivia Collins made a donation box, which they placed in a hallway in the high school.

“Anyone can give love by giving shoes. Shoes are necessary and should be provided to all. However, not everybody recognizes this and the Good Soles is hoping to change that. It will do so by encouraging others to “have a soul” through their collections and donations of shoes,” the group said in a press release.

Piraino said she was impressed with how her students embraced the project, with the ideas they came up with and the work they did to bring their ideas to life.

It was a creative way to show students the relevancy of their education.

“Kids often don’t see work in school as something you use in the real world,” Piraino said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.