FARMINGTON — Madison "Peach" Steiner spreads happiness around, one pair of hand-painted shoes at a time.
For the last three years, the Farmington-raised artist has run her nonprofit organization, Peach's Neet Feet, out of her home. The company brings smiles to the faces of children and 'tweens working to overcome illnesses or disabilities with gifts of canvas shoes she and 30 other nationwide artists personalize with painted designs. On Saturday, she will speak at the 5th annual TEDxABQ conference in Albuquerque.
"I'll be one of 18 speakers out of 300 (who applied), so I'm very honored to be included," Steiner, 23, said. "I will share a bit of my story and talk about the importance of celebrating others beyond labels, using kindness to celebrate these kids and help them be inspired to live beyond their labels. I'd like to inspire the audience to look at the people around them in their lives and discover ways to give of themselves and have an impact."
In addition to decorating and donating shoes in every color — often festooned in full color with recipient's names, favorite superheroes, foods or fairy-tale characters — Steiner and her organization assemble care packages for the siblings of shoe recipients, sending art supplies, books and toys.
Steiner is no stranger to speaking about her experience. In 2012, she was a winner of the 2012 Random Acts of Kindness Foundation's "Extreme Kindness Challenge" and a recipient of the American Red Cross' 2012 "Real Heroes Award" for Northwest New Mexico. Her first experience before a large audience came last year when Steiner was invited to speak at the Deepak Chopra "Sages and Scientists Symposium" in Carlsbad, Calif. Chopra is a celebrity health guru and bestselling author.
This summer, Steiner's organization delivered its 3,000th pair of shoes to a child, a milestone she considers secondary to the community of giving Neet Feet has engendered.
"Art was my gift that I could give, and I wanted to give something greater and make a movement of kindness a reality," Steiner said. "Now it's more than the shoes — we're a growing community of families, volunteers, artists, spreading kindness and celebrating the kids beyond the illnesses and disabilities they're battling. We call it a shoelace — the shoelace that connects us together."
Born in East Tennessee but raised in Farmington, Steiner got started when she donated a pair of shoes to a little girl battling cancer who lived at Ronald McDonald House in Albuquerque. Today Peach's Neet Feet coordinates donations with more than 20 hospitals and other nonprofits nationwide. She also holds what she calls Peach parties, community events with other organizations that bring art classes, activities and fellowship for recipient families. Steiner will travel to Boston later this month to host a party before she returns to Farmington to hold her organization's 3rd annual gala fundraiser on Oct. 4.
Tracy Jensen plans to travel from her Fountain Valley, Calif., home with friends and family for the event. Two of Jensen's children — her son Kumaka, 7, has Spina Bifida and daughter Sofi, 5, adopted from Bulgaria in February has cerebral palsy — proudly wear Neet Feet shoes.
"Sofi is nonverbal and while she can't express her gratitude (for her shoes), when she goes to therapy each week she wears her purple Converse shoes Madison painted for her and that says it all," Jensen said. "Kids put these shoes on and they love them and know there are a community of people behind them. What Madison has done changed my family's whole outlook. It's awareness of others' journeys and to be there for them. That's Madison's thing — thinking of others. How easier would life be if everyone were so kind? Think about that."