BILLINGS — In a lot of ways, Reese Danhof is your typical 9-year-old, with impeccable taste and style. But she’s special in one very important way.
“Huge heart, it’s constant with her," said Holly Danhof, Reese's mom. "She’s always wanting to give and do something nice to help somebody, especially if they’re having a bad day.”
“She is a kid you want your kids to be friends with," added Brenda McNeil, the Elysian school counselor. "You want her in your classroom. She doesn’t sit by when something is going on that she doesn’t agree with or like - she speaks up.”
Early in 2020, Reese noticed a classmate struggling with his tennis shoes. They’d been worn down, were rife with holes, but his family wasn’t able to afford new ones at the time, which meant he would have nothing but his snow boots during the summer.
“I felt bad for him because his feet would be hot," Reese said.
So when mom Holly picked her up from Elysian that day, Reese had an errand for them to run.
“I knew I had leftover Christmas money and birthday money, and I knew I had $50," Reese said. "So I thought Nikes and those nice brands are $50.”
“I did reach out to her teacher and confirm what the situation is," Holly said, "and the teacher informed us of a little bit of the background. She said, ‘Her family and he would absolutely appreciate it.'”
With that blessing, Reese picked out a brand new pair of red Nikes - her classmate’s favorite color - and presented the gift in a secret meeting organized by the school the next week.
“Our teacher called me and the boy in, and everybody was looking at us like we did something wrong," Reese said. "I finally gave them to him, and he kinda teared up and his face got all red. He said thank you.”
“The teacher said he’s walking with a lot more swagger," Holly added. "He felt good. He had a brand new pair of Nikes! That’s the mission statement - what we’re doing is giving kids the ability to walk with pride and dignity.”
That one simple act has now turned into something much bigger. Holly is part of a Billings-area networking chapter of Biz to Biz, and last August, she and her team were tasked with coming up with an idea. 20 minutes later, Kicks for Kids 406 was born.
“Once we realized we were all three moms sitting at this table, and that our main focus in life is our kids, it was like a light bulb," said Danielle Thorson, one of the Kicks for Kids 406 founders. "What do we do to impact our kids in our community?”
Thorson admits she was skeptical at that first meeting, but quickly saw Reese’s light.
“Being an adult, you get to go pick out your own shoes and you get to pick what you like," Thorson said. "Maybe if you’re only wearing your siblings’ hand-me-down shoes because that’s what the family can afford, and you get the brand new pair of Nikes and it’s your first brand new pair of shoes ever, it’s completely uplifting.”
“They’re happy to show their friends, and it’s a big deal," McNeil added. "It makes them feel good. Kids notice that. With social media and the times, kids care about what other kids are wearing and how they look, so it’s a big deal for them to fit in.”
Holly, Danielle, and two other friends got to work setting up the non-profit, and have since been able to buy 40 more pairs for kids at three different Yellowstone County schools.
“Shoes are a huge issue," McNeil said. "Anybody that has kids knows how fast they wear them out, how fast they grow, and if you have multiple kids and you’re handing them down, by the time they get to the second and third kid, there’s not much left.”
The program is confidential. Danhof will get a call from a school counselor who sees a need. Shoe size and a favorite color later, she and Reese will start shopping.
“It’s fun because when a kid needs a new pair of shoes, they could be in my class, and I’m like, ‘Ooh, they would like those,'" Reese said.
Holly admits Reese is her go-to shopping consultant.
“I need her flavor. She’s got good taste," mom said with a smile.
"Most importantly, we want to get them the shoes they want, that they’re proud of, ones that are current and in style. And we try to be the most economical about it so we an make our funds go further.”
As far as every corner of the state, if Reese gets her wish.
“I want to help a lot of kids that don’t live in Billings," Reese said. "There’s a lot of kids that don’t get treated well and need new pairs of shoes, so I want to reach them so they don’t get left out.”
With her on the case, nobody ever will.