Social Work Student Madison Steiner Paints Personalized Shoes for Kids With Cancer
Farmington, N.M. — When kids with cancer lace up the personalized shoes Madison Steiner hand paints for them, big smiles come to their brave faces, and for a moment they forget their battle against the illness.
Since she launched Peach’s Neet Feet in July, Steiner, 21, has donated 55 shoes to children in 23 states through her grassroots cancer outreach. The colorful canvas shoes are emblazoned with the children’s names and what they love, from superheroes to butterflies.
“I call these kids my Peach’s Neet Feet fighters,” said the social work student from New Mexico Highlands University’s Farmington Center. “These kids have incredible resiliency and spirit. They can be hooked up to tubes in the hospital and still be smiling and peaceful. They’re remarkable, and they inspire me.”
Steiner’s mother called her Peach when she was a child, and the nickname stuck. After painting for seven years, she dabbed acrylic textile paint on her first pair of shoes on a whim, enjoying how the whimsical wearable art made people smile.
“It’s hard to be grumpy when you’re looking down at happy monsters, princesses or a glittery cupcake,” Steiner said. “That’s when I got the idea to paint and donate shoes to children in need of a smile. Getting the shoes to the children is very, very rewarding.”
Steiner said her passion is art and the art of giving.
Tyler Kleine is a 10-year-old from Ocala, Fla. who loves to play basketball. He was 8 when he was diagnosed with T-cell Lymphoma, a blood cancer that requires two and a half years of rigorous chemotherapy including delivery through a port in his chest and spinal taps. He’s looking forward to when his treatments end and he can be on the court again.
Oct. 25 was a big day for Tyler. After eagerly checking the mailbox daily for his Peach’s Neet Feet shoes, they finally arrived. A big Florida Gator fan, his shoes sport the Gator mascot and a basketball fueled by flames.
“My shoes make me feel cool and special,” Tyler said. “My friends like them a lot and want a pair, but I tell them I have them because I have cancer. My favorite thing about my shoes are the green ribbons because that’s the color for lymphoma. I also really like the Gator symbols because that’s the team I want to play basketball for when I go to college.”
Tyler said he wants to tell Steiner thank you for making shoes for him and other kids with cancer.
“She’s a really great artist,” Tyler said.
Tyler’s mother, Angela Kleine, said Tyler grinned from ear to ear when he opened his box of shoes and did a little happy dance. He couldn’t wait to wear them to school.
“The biggest thing kids with cancer experience is that they’re not normal any more,” Angela said. “With his special shoes, Tyler can for a moment forget about his illness and be like other boys his age. When I see him so happy as a kid with a cool pair of shoes my heart is filled with joy.”
Tyler’s mother said she has tremendous admiration for Steiner, including her compassionate generosity at such a young age.
“Madison puts her time, energy and heart into every pair of shoes she makes. She’s a remarkable young woman with such a giving spirit. She’s a Godsend for kids fighting cancer. Her shoes also help raise awareness about childhood cancer, which is severely underfunded in research,” Kleine said.
Steiner said her parents, Annie and Bear Smith, greatly influenced the way she views life and how to help others. Steiner grew up with six siblings, two of whom her parents adopted while serving as foster parents to the youth.
“I learned a lot from my parents about unconditional love and selflessness,” Steiner said. “They taught us how to open our hearts and accept new siblings into the family.”
Faith Eldridge is a visiting social work professor at the Highlands University Farmington Center, where she also coordinates social work education. She advises Steiner, a new social work junior who is taking a break from school this semester to grow Peach’s Neet Feet.
Eldridge has also observed Steiner working with children as a paid intern at the Parents as Teachers program in the Farmington Municipal Schools.
“Madison is a very special, humble young lady with the spirit of a social worker,” Eldridge said. “Her nature is to help and advocate for others. She has the potential to be a superior social worker and impact people’s lives in profound ways. She’s extraordinary.
“It’s wonderful that Madison is using her playful, fun, happy art to offset some of the tension and stress sick children and their families feel,” Eldridge said.
Steiner said initially she got the word about her shoes out to parents with the help of social media sites like Facebook. She also has a blog, From My HeART to your Sole, www.peachsneetfeet.blogspot.com, and a website www.peachfeet.com.
Now requests from parents are coming in quickly, and she has shoes for 22 kids in process. She works with several volunteer guest artists, including her brother, Corey Smith.
Steiner operates Peach’s Neet Feet on a shoestring budget through donations, primarily from family and friends. She also paints and sells custom tote bags, plowing the money back into her cancer initiative.
She hopes to gain corporate sponsors and has started the long process for obtaining 501-C 3 nonprofit status.
“Forty-six kids in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer every day,” Steiner said. “I want to get personalized shoes to more of these children.”
Steiner’s experience with her Peach’s Neet Feet kids and their families has made her more determined than ever to earn her social work degree. She plans to be a medical social worker, working with children fighting cancer and other long-term illnesses.
“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I hope that I don’t have a single bit of talent left, and could say, â€˜I used everything you gave me,'” Steiner said.