Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Greater Atlanta Christian star soccer player Kayla Puzas has started a charity project called Cleats 4 Kids to get cleats to children in Nicaragua. With help from her teammates Puzas has collected around 100 pairs of cleats that they will be shipped down to those in need.
Winning a state championship, the first for Greater Atlanta Christian's successful girls soccer program, made Kayla Puzas think.
An all-county first team selection as a junior, Puzas scored 15 goals for the Spartans and had the game-winning assist in the Class AA finals.
In the days and weeks after GAC beat rival Blessed Trinity for the state title, Puzas knew she'd been really fortunate in her life so far.
"I guess I just realized how blessed I was to have all the opportunities that I did," Puzas said. "I felt like it was my responsibility to give back in any way that I could."
Puzas started a project to gather and distribute soccer shoes to kids that don't have that most basic of equipment. It was just an idea, but she began taking steps to making it real.
"Even though it's a small thing, to me, it's become really important," Puzas said.
Puzas created Cleats 4 Kids and, through her church, Prince of Peace, found a place to send the shoes once she collects them.
"We asked if they had any organizations where they supported small children or orphans or just kids that are in need," Puzas said. "We came across an organization called Amigos for Christ. They are in Nicaragua and they have a house for children they support. They come from bad backgrounds and a lot of them are orphans.
"They said sports were very important to the children -- especially soccer. So I figured that was the perfect place to start."
Puzas created a Facebook page and began contacting people, like her high school and club soccer coaches, about getting cleats to donate. That was in July. Puzas was on her way to 100 pairs after just a few weeks. But she's hoping to have at least 350 before the end of her senior season at GAC.
"My goal, it's kind of small, but it's doable," she said. "I want it to get bigger, but I just needed a beginning goal."
The shoes have come from a lot of sources. Her mom was visiting family in Texas and brought back two tiny pairs.
"Which is not a lot," Puzas said. "But it was from my cousins and the shoes are like the size of my hand. They're really small.
"I know I have plenty of cleats that I donated. I feel like it's not too difficult of a task. I'm not asking for people to pay for anything. I'm just asking them to give up stuff they don't use."
The week after she sent out invitations to join her Facebook group, another student at GAC called her.
"He had a really big donation of like 12 pairs," Puzas said. "It was really good. It was the very first donation. On top of that, he said, 'I just wanted to see if there was any way I could help do more. Could I make a few calls to my church and to other people to see if they can get some stuff for you?'
"I thought that was awesome."
Amigos for Christ, an international nonprofit based in Buford and begun as a service project at Prince of Peace, is going to cover the shipping expenses once Puzas has her donation ready. But she'd like to go along for the trip.
"One person really can make a difference -- even if it's not world-changing, as long as it's life-changing for one person, I think it's important," she said.
Puzas has played soccer for as long as she can remember. She's going to college, Mississippi State, on a scholarship next year. Puzas, who agrees she has a talent for soccer just as long as she works at it, understands she's been lucky.
"You know, during the Olympics you hear a bunch of new stories of these world-class athletes that come out of horrible backgrounds and have nothing as children," Puzas said. "It just makes you think there are plenty of other kids that are just like them right now, that you could help."
It started off as just cleats, but her club coach from Concord Fire South donated soccer balls and Puzas said she won't turn any equipment away.
"Kids don't have pennies or cones or balls, so I thought I could also add that to the donations," she said.
Puzas has her address on the Facebook page if people want to mail cleats. She and her dad, David, are also happy to meet people and pick them up.
Puzas is also helping out with Amigos for Christ's festival at Suwanee Town Center on Oct. 6 and would like to put on her own free soccer clinic at the end of her senior year.
"I know if I have it going in the right direction pretty soon, I know even when I'm gone to college, I'll have people here that will want to help and continue the process," Puzas said.
On Facebook: Cleats4KidsCommunityProject