Photos Courtesy of Russell Hons Photography and Denise Blomberg/Samaritan’s Feet
Servant Leadership and Practicing What You Preach
For five years, head men’s basketball coach Brian Jones has used his platform as a tool to give back to those less fortunate in Grand Forks. Jones’ relationship with Samaritan’s Feet has been one of the most influential ways he has united his basketball team with the community.
This October, his commitment to community outreach and passion for Samaritan’s Feet collided at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center for the first time. It was a historic event.
Samaritan’s Feet and Jones partnered with Grand Forks public school to distribute shoes to area kids in need of new footwear their families can’t afford. Men’s and women’s basketball players at UND welcomed the kids to the Betty to fit them with a new pair of shoes and to shoot hoops.
“Every time I walked into the gym, I saw smiles on the faces of children and parents,” said Grand Forks Public Schools Social Worker Pamela Elmquist. “There is something about the look in the eyes of a student, who is two feet tall, as they look up in awe at a basketball player who towers above them and genuinely cares about them.”
Samaritan’s Feet has become one of the leading non-profit organizations that provides footwear for those less fortunate. In Grand Forks alone, 900 pairs of shoes have been distributed over the past four years.
With the help of 65 volunteers — consisting of student-athletes, coaches and others — 400 pairs of shoes were distributed from the Betty in October.
“It was magical,” said Denise Blomberg, a regional director of operations at Samaritan’s Feet. “There’s nothing cooler than a kid looking up to a coach or student-athlete and being inspired by them. The tangible thing is the shoes. The other magical thing is having those players and coaches being impacted by serving in their community, at the most humbling level of washing someone else’s feet.”
Blomberg plans domestic distribution in the Midwest and has worked with Jones and the men’s basketball team for five years.
It was Jones’ dream to host shoe distribution at the Betty when he first aligned with Samaritan’s Feet in 2013. Every season, he and his coaching staff leave their dress shoes and socks in the locker room and coach a game with bare feet to raise awareness for Samaritan’s Feet.
To reward his commitment to Samaritan’s Feet’s cause, Jones was named the 2016 Barefoot Coach of the Year. Previous winners include Boston Celtics’ head coach Brad Stevens and Kentucky’s John Calipari.
This season, Jones and his staff will go shoeless Saturday, February 3, when the Fighting Hawks host Montana at the Betty. It will be Jones’ sixth Barefoot Game.
Jones has used Samaritan’s Feet to drive help to the Grand Forks community, but it has also positioned his players to become more involved in the town they play college ball in. Former player Quinton Hooker participated in three shoe distributions during his time at UND and was nominated for the Allstate NABC and WBCA Good Works Teams® for his humanitarian efforts.
“I look at it from a humanitarian standpoint as what kind of servant leaders Coach Jones is raising to do great things,” Blomberg said. “He is a very humble person that wants no laud and praise for what he’s doing as a coach. He wants to create leaders on and off the court, and if there’s one thing I can say about him, he excels in all that he does as a person. It’s an honor for us to work with Brian Jones.”
Jones has set the precedent for other college coaches in terms of giving back to the community he coaches in. Samaritan’s Feet is just one of the organizations he has used to show his love for his community. With the booming success of the shoe distribution at the Betty, it’s safe to say UND and Jones will be providing shoes for a long time to come.
- 400 pairs of shoes distributed this year in Grand Forks (as of 10/14/17)
- 65 volunteers participated
- 900 pairs of shoes delivered in Grand Forks overall
- 7 Samaritan’s Feet service in North Dakota cities
- 4,000 pairs of shoes delivered in North Dakota