Breaking Barriers: Randall Trice '19, '20 Provides Foster Youth with Shoes for Grades

Randall Trice '19, '20 got lost on his first day of school at Azusa Pacific University. As he tried to find the way to his theology class, his nerves began to grow. When he finally stumbled into the classroom, his professor, Paul Shrier, looked at him with compassion and asked if he was looking for theology. Trice nodded and Shrier replied, “Well then, you’re in the right spot. Have a seat.”

As a first generation student, the struggle to get to that classroom on his first day of college was symbolic of a greater challenge. “I didn’t have any family to show me how to fill out the FAFSA application or how to read a syllabus. I had to learn to navigate college on my own,” he said.

As he adjusted to college life, he explored majors. Like many students, Trice wasn’t sure what career path to take. He knew he loved working with kids and thought about becoming a nurse, then a psychologist, before discovering his dream profession. “There are so many avenues to travel with social work. You won’t become rich by being a social worker, but you will gain a lot of knowledge and be able to help many people,” he said.

With a clear direction now in mind as a social work major, Trice focused on growing in his faith. He had chosen APU because of the university’s God First commitment. Although he grew up going to church for the first half of his life, his faith had dissipated over the years. “I wanted to get connected back to God. I felt lost for so long and knew I needed His guidance,” he said. “When I got to APU, it was like Christmas day. Chapel provided the spiritual TLC I needed. I wanted to stand up, put my hands up, and just groove to the worship. I was like a kid in a candy store.”

As Trice flourished spiritually, he developed a passion for education. After he graduated in 2019, he went on to earn his Master’s in Social Work (MSW) degree in 2020. As part of his MSW coursework, Trice had to analyze a nonprofit organization. He didn’t like any of the available options, so he decided to start his own. “My professor, Donna Gallup, told me if I could come up with a mission statement and a target audience, she'd let me make my own for the class project. I had an idea in my head for a while before that, but this led me to put it on paper and start it soon after that.” Based out of Pasadena, Trice’s idea is now a functioning nonprofit called Shoes4Grades, which donates shoes to foster youth. Kids can get one pair of shoes for free. If they’d like to get a second, all they have to do is bring up their quarterly scores by 5 percent, or half a letter grade. “I wanted Shoes4Grades to motivate kids to do well academically and to develop a lifelong love of learning,” he said. “If you can get a good education, you can break the cycle of poverty and set an example for the next generation to follow.”

This mission is personal for Trice. At 9-years-old, he and his brother were separated from their mother and placed in the Department of Children and Family Services care. Trice went from living somewhere without gas, hot water, and very little food to a place where his needs were met. “Being put in foster care was the best thing that could have happened at the time,” he said. “We were not living in good conditions. I prayed and prayed and God answered. Although the transition arose from some unfortunate events, it was something we desperately needed.”

As Trice settled into life in his new home, he began to go to school, something he hadn’t done before. Unfortunately, he experienced something many foster kids can relate to—bullying. “All of my clothes were hand-me-downs, things that other foster kids had worn before, but weren’t really fit for me,” he said. “A lot of kids were really mean. They’d pick on me because I didn’t have the latest clothes or shoes.” This changed when he joined the basketball team. “I was pretty good at basketball back then, so kids decided they would rather align with me than bully me,” he said. “Sports were definitely the common denominator for us.”

While Trice began to find acceptance socially, he still struggled academically. “I was a poor reader. I didn’t fully learn how to read until 7th grade,” he said. “My mother never sat down and read with us. My caregiver didn’t even know because I was too embarrassed to say anything about it.” Trice’s lack of literacy made it hard to succeed in school, until one day when he found the courage to ask his English teacher for help. “She took me to a reading club where I started learning basic phonics and how to blend words. It took a long time and was very frustrating at first, but she kept pushing me to show up and learn.” After Trice learned to read, his grades drastically improved. By the time he graduated high school, his GPA was strong enough to apply to college. He attended a school in Maryland, before coming back home to take classes in a setting where he felt more comfortable, transferring to Pasadena City College, before landing at APU.

Trice strives to make sure his sons Jordan, 11, and Kyrie, 3, have the upbringing he lacked. While taking a full load of classes at APU, he worked a full-time job as a campus supervisor at a group home called Hillsides. Balancing higher education, a job, and fatherhood was a tall task. “Jordan’s schedule often conflicted with mine, so I had to be proactive and move things around so I could be there for him,” he said. “I don’t know how I did it, but it all worked out.” Failure was not an option since Trice was determined to set an example for his sons. “That’s why I went to school, to lay down the foundation for them to follow. Education opened up so many doors for me, and I want them to experience the same thing, just without the barriers I faced.”

This is what Trice aims to do through Shoes4Grades, to remove obstacles, allowing children to thrive in school. As of June 30, 2022, the organization has donated 2,307 pairs of shoes to children in need in the community and across the nation. The results have been striking– the motivation of new shoes has led to children getting much better grades. Trice hopes to continue the growth of Shoes4Grades by building a facility to provide a space for mentoring and tutoring. He also hopes to partner with a shoe company. “We want to go from 2,000 pairs of shoes to 200,000, but we don’t have the funds for that,” he said. “If we had a partner to help us, we could expand our impact, blessing more kids in the community with confidence and encouraging them to do well academically.”

Faith got Trice where he is today and it continues to guide him. “My faith is a huge part of every decision I make,” he said. “My favorite verse has always been ‘with God, all things are possible.’ God called me to start Shoes4Grades. I hope my example shows that anything is truly possible through God.”

Randall Trice is APU’s nominee for the 2023 Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) Young Alumni Award which recognizes an individual (or a team of individuals working in a joint venture) who has achieved uncommon leadership or success in a way that reflects the values of Christian higher education.