By RACHAEL LONG // Photos courtesy of Courtney Hammons

Tariku Hammons remembers where he came from.

The 13-year old Brentwood Middle School student hails from rural Ethiopia, where he lived until the age of six.

Though he has since lived with his adopted family in the United States, his mother, Courtney Hammons, said he has never forgotten his roots.

As a way to honor those roots, Courtney said Tariku and his Nashville Football Club teammates banded together to help give back to Ethiopians.

The soccer club was given an opportunity to play soccer in Amsterdam, but costs of the travel and expenses were high. To help pay for incidentals and other trip costs, Courtney said the team paired with Orlando-based Funds2Orgs to fundraise by collecting gently used or new shoes for donation. The shoes help provide micro-entrepreneurs with loans in developing nations, which in turn, can help them become self-sufficient.

Courtney, one of the team’s leaders, said she had to make a couple of phone calls to make sure the shoes would be directed to Ethiopia.

“He knows what an amazing opportunity this trip is, but he also doesn’t forget the people that he came from,” Courtney said. “So he wanted to make sure that they would reap some kind of reward from his being able to make the trip.”

To reach their goal, each of the 19 team players were tasked with collecting about 200 shoes.

When the opportunity to travel abroad first came up, Courtney said her son was not going to be able to go. Thanks to a family on the team who offered to pay for legal help, Tariku had a chance to go along, too.

But he needed to raise more money.

His new fundraising goal became 2,600 shoes. By Jan. 13, he reached that goal. But he didn’t stop there.

In a window of about 78 days, Tariku collected 5,850 pairs. Courtney said he had heard there was another boy on the team who would not be able to attend because he didn’t have enough funds. Tariku’s donation of shoes made it possible for his teammate to go along.

His mom was ready to be done with the donation, inspection, sorting and packing process that went along with the collection. But Tariku had more work to do.

“He said, ‘Mom, if I collect until the end, that means that we don’t leave a pair of shoes behind for somebody in Ethiopia,’” Courtney said.

Besides Tariku’s donation, the team collected another 3,600 pairs of donated shoes.

During the drive, Courtney said Tariku used the NextDoor app to alert his neighbors and other Brentwood residents of the need for shoes.

And they poured in.

“People would just drop them on our front doors,” Courtney said with a laugh. “There were days we couldn’t walk out onto our front porch … we couldn’t open our front door.”

Tariku and his younger brother would take the piles of shoes into the foyer area and sort them. In order to be donated, the shoes had to be inspected for holes, their laces tied together, and bagged.

Courtney said she wanted to issue “one big thank you” to all those who donated shoes or shared Tariku’s social media posts.

She also said her son consistently updated a sign near their home that showed how many pairs of shoes were raised — and how many were still needed. The fundraising effort took time and dedication, but Courtney said it has meant much more.

“You’ve got to follow that passion for your kids,” Courtney said. “It was a short amount of time, it was just over 60 days that shoes literally took over our world … but as a family we understood what it would do [for] 9,000 families on the other side of the world.”

When kids come forward with great ideas, Courtney says lending an ear and an arm for action is the best thing adults can do.

“If we don’t ignite this fire in them when they’re this young, it’s not going to be there when they’re older,” Courtney said.

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