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Written by Sarah Shelley | Content Development Specialist

The Governor’s Service Award was given in honor of University of the Cumberlands’ annual Shoes 4 the Soul event.

Members of campus leadership and the Office of Campus Ministries at University of the Cumberlands were honored to receive a Faith-Based Governor’s Service Award for 2023.

The awards ceremony was held in April 2024, with Governor Andy Beshear recognizing the award recipients. Serve Kentucky, an agency within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, coordinates the annual awards ceremony.

The faith-based Governor’s Service Award was given in honor of University of the Cumberlands’ annual Shoes 4 the Soul event, which has benefitted thousands of schoolchildren since its beginning in 2011. Each year, children are welcomed on to campus, where Cumberlands student, faculty, and staff volunteers wash the children’s feet, give them brand-new socks and shoes, and hand them a backpack filled with hygiene items and, in some years, school supplies. Each volunteer is paired with a child as their “buddy” for the day, guiding them through event’s stations, doing fun activities with them, and getting to know them better. The event is based on the actions of Jesus Christ recorded in John 13 of the Christian Bible, wherein Christ washed the feet of his disciples in an example of deep humility and servant-leadership.

Per the GSA, “The Shoes 4 the Soul event at UC continues to be a powerful tradition, showcasing the institution’s dedication to community service and wellbeing of local children. The impressive numbers and involvement of UC students, faculty and staff highlights the enduring significance of this annual event.”

Jamirae Holbrook, vice president for student affairs at University of the Cumberlands, nominated the event for the Governor’s Service Award.

“Our campus and community all know and love this event,” said Holbrook. “It is so humbling to watch our students interact with local children, joke around with them, and show them God’s love. We want to impact our community, and we want to instill a spirit of servant leadership in our students, and Shoes 4 the Soul is a perfect blend of both. This event is special and has come full circle. We now have UC students who were once served by the program as elementary children volunteering to serve in the program. It is an event filled with joy! We look forward to it every year.”

Holbrook attended the award ceremony along with Dr. Jerry Jackson, chancellor at Cumberlands; Dr. Leslie Ryser, executive vice president for institutional advancement; Jacob Ratliff, campus minister; Hannah Baldauff, ministry coordinator; Matthew Plementosh and Rachel Li, associate campus ministers; and Briley Fillenwarth and Ashley Tucker, graduate assistants in the Office of Campus Ministries.

Ratliff mentioned how great an honor it was for the event to be nominated for the award, saying the Campus Ministries team was “very grateful” and enjoyed the opportunity to “share in celebrating the ways the Lord is using Shoes 4 the Soul.”

Ratliff continued, “We are incredibly honored to receive the award. It is a wonderful testament to the Lord's faithfulness in providing through Shoes 4 the Soul. Year after year, it is a privilege to model the love of Christ through washing feet and meeting the physical needs of local children through giving them new socks and shoes. Each child walks away knowing they are special and loved. Their smiles are infectious as they step out wearing new shoes to match their personalities.”

Per a press release by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the awards recognize “exceptional volunteerism and service contributions.” As Governor Beshear noted, “Even small acts of kindness can have a powerful effect by showing what is possible. Every Kentuckian has a unique talent that can be shared.”

For more information about the Governor’s Service Awards, visit serve.ky.gov. To learn more about University of the Cumberlands’ volunteerism and outreach, visit ucumberlands.edu/community-service.