The latest Dell Change Maker is 15-year-old Wellington high school student, Maia Mariner, who started a ‘sneaker bank’ to help her fellow students into sport.
Maia was only 12 when she came up with the idea for Lazy Sneakers, a non-profit organisation which provides children and teenagers in need with good quality secondhand sneakers.
When the keen basketballer noticed some of her peers were unable to play sport because they didn’t have appropriate footwear, Maia wanted to help. After brainstorming ideas with her family, she decided to start a ‘sneaker bank’. The idea behind Lazy Sneakers is to motivate people to donate their "lazy", or unused, sneakers to those in need.
"I saw this as a project that could not only help my friends, but other people in the community. A project everyone could willingly get behind," says Maia, who is now in year 11 at Queen Margaret College.
"I tested the sneaker bank idea through Wellington Basketball in early 2018 to see if people would be interested in donating and receiving sneakers. Our baller community just got behind it and the sneaker bank has grown since."
After seeing the community response, Maia organised additional collection points at her school, as well as at businesses and sports centres such as Auckland’s Delta Insurance and Wellington’s ASB Sports Centre.
Maia has now collected over 2000 pairs of sneakers and donated over 1500 pairs. The charitable organisation is aiming to have collected 3000 pairs and distributed 2000 pairs by the end of this year.
Dell and The Project are recognising New Zealanders who have made a positive social impact in the community through the Change Maker campaign. Maia is the youngest Change Maker so far, and she is honoured to have her non-profit organisation recognised by Dell.
While many of the sneakers Maia collects are donated through schools and community groups, families can also approach Lazy Sneakers directly.
"I know some families are experiencing financial hardship so to receive a free pair of sneakers can alleviate some of this stress," she says.
Many of the shoes have been donated to local Wellington students, but Maia has also couriered sneakers around Aotearoa and the Pacific. Last year, Lazy Sneakers partnered with The Salvation Army to donate over 200 pairs of sneakers to children in Samoa. A moving 'thank you' video was posted to social media featuring the kids in their new kicks.
Maia has used social media - videos of her friends dancing and shots of happy recipients and donors, accompanied by the hashtag #motivateyoursneakers - to help spread the word. She is hopeful that being the recipient of a Dell Change Maker award will enable her to take the initiative even further. "It’s very cool to be acknowledged," she says.
Maia says she is lucky to have the support of her family, friends and fellow students, as well as her school and the generous businesses that have sponsored the initiative. "Collaborations are essential," she says. "I could not have done this on my own."
Maia’s parents helped her to launch the project and build a website, and her father, Kirk Mariner, helps out behind the scenes, taking calls and responding to queries.
"I have a very supportive family. They believed in me, backed my ideas and supported me when some of those ideas failed."
Maia spends between two and eight hours a week on Lazy Sneakers, but school has to take priority. "Trying to keep a balance can be a struggle but my parents keep me in check and say 'academics first'."
With the COVID-19 lockdown impacting the receipt and distribution of sneakers, Maia brainstormed alternative ways to support her community.
"It helped us think about how we could support people in different ways," she says.
She ended up giving koha to community groups, using money she had been awarded for her charitable work, and profit from the range of Lazy Sneakers apparel she has created.
The Kiwi social entrepreneur, who is of Maori (Ngāi Tai and Ngāti Koata) and Samoan-Chinese descent, is proud to be inspiring other young Maori and Pacific women through her work. She gave a keynote address at last year’s Pacific Social Enterprise Forum.
"Hopefully people (particularly young Maori and Pacific women) see me and go, 'If she can do this, I can do this'," she says.
The young Wellingtonian has mingled with such illustrious people as New Zealand hip hop artist King Kapisi and Prince Harry - who was quoted as saying, "It’s projects like Lazy Sneakers we need to embrace and support" - but Maia says these highlights pale in comparison to seeing the smiles on students' faces when they receive a pair of sneakers.
"I’m encouraged people are inspired by my project, but at the heart it's about supporting our communities to support kids to play, participate and reach their potential."
"I am consistently informed by teachers, youth workers and parents that some young people have now been able to play sports because they have sneakers to play in."
She has also met a number of people in the business community, leading her to develop an interest in global business and social enterprise, with plans to further her studies in this field overseas.
"I didn’t realise that Lazy Sneakers would resonate with so many issues such as the environment, women in leadership, social issues, high-performance sport and social enterprise and as a result I have met some amazing people, particularly in the area of climate change."
After school, Maia is hoping to pass Lazy Sneakers onto another young person or youth organisation "to lead and refresh the kaupapa of Lazy Sneakers."
"If you have a good pair of sneakers lying around that you no longer need, please pay it forward," says Maia.
You can donate sneakers by visiting one of the collection centres listed on the Lazy Sneakers website or by contacting the team through their website or social media channels.
● Lazy Sneakers takes sneakers of all sizes, from infants to US size 18 mens, with US size 10-13 mens the most popular. Sneakers should be in good condition, so someone can get at least a season of play, or 12 months wear out of them.
If you know someone who goes that extra mile to support and shape a better future for their communities, nominate them here and they could be a winner of a brand new Dell XPS 13 laptop.
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