When her mom told her about the ballet students at Metropolitan Ministries, 10-year-old Drew Buckley knew right away she wanted to help.
There were all these kids who loved ballet as much as she did. But their parents couldn't afford ballet slippers, especially when kids can outgrow two or three pairs a year. The Metropolitan Ministries kids were taking ballet classes barefoot, or in stocking feet, and their feet would slip.
She had never met those kids from the Metropolitan Ministries Partnership School, but Drew felt for them.
"I enjoy ballet, and I think everyone should have the chance to enjoy it the same way I do," Drew said.
She started talking about those kids to her classmates at the Academy of the Holy Names, where she's in fourth grade, and at the Patel Conservatory. She printed fliers, sent e-mails and knocked on doors in her Hyde Park neighborhood, asking for donations.
By last week, Drew, with help from her mother, had collected more than $1,200 in donations, plus about 30 pairs of used ballet slippers. Other people and organizations heard about the students' situation and donated several dozen more pairs of shoes.
Donations are still coming in. But Drew, her mother, Deana Buckley, and the ballet teachers at Metropolitan Ministries wanted the students to get their slippers before Christmas. When the kids came to class last week just before Christmas break, they were surprised with dozens of pairs of new and used ballet slippers, enough for all the younger students. The Buckleys and Patel officials are still trying to find people to donate money and shoes for the rest of the students in grades 3 through 5.
"I wanted to show her that if everyone will just do something small, in the end you can make a big difference," Deana Buckley said.
All the students, boys and girls alike, at the Metropolitan Ministries school take ballet from the time they're in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Some of the students are from families who are temporarily staying at Metropolitan Ministries. Because the school is part of the Hillsborough County School District, kids from the neighborhood go there as well.
Ashley Hilton and Glynn Owens from the Patel Conservatory teach the weekly classes at the YMCA next to Metropolitan Ministries.
"Mostly, once they start it they really love it," Hilton said. "With the younger boys, sometimes I have to say, 'This exercise will really help you in football' or 'This is a move that you can use in basketball.' But once they see what the classes involve, they're pretty excited."
Deana Buckley and her daughters Drew and 5-year-old Casey all study dance at Patel. When Deana, who has studied dance for most of her life, heard about the Metropolitan Ministries classes, she volunteered to lend a hand. She helps Hilton with the younger students.
For Buckley, the essential element of the classes is that it makes ballet available to children who otherwise would not have the experience. "To have that exposure to the arts, it just opens a new area of their brains, it shows them new ways of looking at the world and solving problems," she said.
The donation drive also has been a good experience for Drew.
After Buckley started helping with the classes, she told her daughter about the students who had to dance in bare feet.
"Everyone's been so friendly," Deana Buckley said. "One man just wrote us a $500 check. A man we didn't even know."
Those who want to help by donating money or ballet slippers can send donations to Deana Buckley, 709 S Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33606.