September 1, 2008

Teen’s Shoe Art Brings Joy


PALO ALTO, Calif. - The professional staff at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital can care for, watch over, even cure their young patients, but there's something they can't do that teenage volunteer Katie Chabolla can: Trick out the kids' shoes with the coolest hand- painted designs.

Hollywood movies, rock'n'roll bands, sports stars - anything a kid can be a fan of, the 17-year-old from Alamo, Calif., can splash in full color on a pair of canvas Vans kicks.

You're a dialysis patient who loves the Spanish soccer club FC Barcelona? Chabolla will send you home sporting shoes that present your heroes in lifelike detail, right down to the big front teeth in Ronaldinho's smile.

Through her Web site, Chabolla charges $150 to $200 for her creations, which can take her 12 hours or more to paint, depending on their complexity. At Lucile Packard, where she recently wrapped up her second annual two-week "Shoes for the Blues" volunteer project, Chabolla happily gives them away.

Such a unique piece of custom apparel would please pretty much any youngster, but hospital staff say the shoes come as a special thrill for kids whose illnesses remove them from the daily social life of their peers.

"Having someone your own age do something with you, they interact with you in a different way and can give you a gift that's very personal," said Child Life specialist Kirsten Cotten. "You really feel special, really feel important, really feel normal. It's something you can take pride in that's not necessarily related to the hospital."

Chabolla, who began painting shoes as a freshman at Monte Vista High School in Danville, Calif., said she got the idea for the charity project from her memory of being hospitalized for a hernia as a child.

"I remember being really bored," she said.

Chabolla's father introduced her to a family friend who works at Lucile Packard last year, and she got the go-ahead to volunteer there. She said the experience has been gratifying - especially when she sees the look on the face of a particularly excited recipient.

Four-year-old Arturo Nicolas Martinez had been in the hospital for weeks when Chabolla came to his room recently and asked what he'd like painted on his shoes. It was a tough decision between pirates and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but he eventually settled on the turtles.

While Arturo rested, recovering from a liver transplant, Chabolla took out her fabric acrylics and a size-appropriate pair of Vans - the company donated 80 for the cause - and got to work. She starts painting in the patient's room, then finishes at home.

When she presented Arturo with the finished product a couple of days later, he couldn't speak, but "his eyes got really big," said mother Maria Martinez.

Arturo was so excited he kept the shoes on his bed for days. A few days later, when Cotten picked them up, he began crying, worried she was going to take them away.

Over the past two weeks, Chabolla painted more than 15 pairs of shoes at the hospital. She said she'd like to do more, but she has to do her summer homework and get ready for the start of school.

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