When Kyler Nipper was 11 years old, several classmates bullied him in the school hallway as he walked to biology class. For more than a year, they’d been making fun of his worn shoes. (Kyler’s sneakers were perpetually cracked and damaged due to a condition known as idiopathic toe walking, which forced him to walk with a tiptoeing gait.) On this day, though, one of the boys stabbed Kyler with a pencil in his arm and chest, puncturing his lung.
Kyler spent three harrowing days in the hospital with a breathing tube and has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder ever since. Following the incident, his parents pulled him from his school in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and immediately started homeschooling him.
Coincidentally, five days before the attack, Kyler had decided to help other kids going through the same sort of bullying because of their shabby shoes. He launched Kyler’s Kicks, with the goal of collecting slightly worn shoes and giving them to those in need.
Since the attack, Kyler’s Kicks has been vital to Kyler’s emotional healing. About a week after leaving the hospital, he put a large cardboard box outside of his family’s apartment. “Kyler’s Kicks,” he wrote in big letters. “Please donate shoes for those in need.”
Within days, he got permission from other local stores to place Kyler’s Kicks boxes outside their entrances. It wasn’t long before he had so many shoes to distribute that a local business donated the use of a party bus to make monthly runs to homeless areas and shelters.
After medical bills proved to be too much to handle, Kyler’s parents moved the family to Las Vegas to start over. Within weeks, Kyler was back at it, collecting shoes, often cleaning them by hand, and delivering them to the homeless. The Denver Post reports that, since it started, Kyler’s Kicks has collected and distributed more than 25,000 pairs of shoes—with the majority going to at-risk children, teens and homeless people in Las Vegas.
“I’m so proud and impressed with his work in the community,” said Maya Smith, executive director of Born This Way Foundation. “Young people like Kyler are the key to building a kinder, braver world for us all.”
Now, with the bullying incident three years behind him, Kyler is still homeschooled, and he dedicates five hours a day to Kyler’s Kicks, as devoted as ever to his mission. “It makes me feel amazing, and it’s helping to heal my PTSD,” he noted.
On a recent stroll down the street, Kyler noticed a man he presumed to be homeless. Instinctively, the teen unlaced his shoes to offer them to the barefooted stranger. According to Kyler, they both walked away happy.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” he said.