The soul behind the soles: For Tom Ahlberg, the back of your closet could change a lifeWORTHINGTON — Around the wrist of Worthington’s Tom Ahlberg, 54, is a multicolored, handmade bracelet which he cannot glance at without a smile. It’s there to remind him of Guatemala.
WORTHINGTON — Around the wrist of Worthington’s Tom Ahlberg, 54, is a multicolored, handmade bracelet which he cannot glance at without a smile.
It’s there to remind him of Guatemala.
“The kids there got nothing, but they’re happy,” Ahlberg said. “That’s the thing that hits you the most.
“These kids are walking around barefoot, but they've got a smile on their face. They deal with what they need and not what they want. You can bring joy to those people with something as simple as the things that are laying in your closet. It’s amazing.”
The bracelet reminds him of handing out supplies to people who need it the most. The bracelet is a reminder of helping with fellow missionaries Richard Fellows, Ted Martin and Jerry Luinenburg and seeing Fellows unable to put his arms at his side without a child grabbing it to hold on to. It’s a reminder of giving a homeless person red and white Nikes on his 18th birthday, along with a birthday cake and watching him share the cake with his homeless friends rather than keep it for himself.
Ahlberg has been the database specialist for the Worthington school district for the past 15 years. Essentially, he’s the man behind the electronics, including the scoreboards.
“I just love working around the kids,” Ahlberg said. “They keep me young.”
Ahlberg is more than just the man informing the crowd of what inning it is or the one to call when restarting the computer doesn’t work. In February, Ahlberg delivered school supplies, shoes and blankets to three different locations in Guatemala.
“I went down last year with my daughter’s in-laws, and I have a brother who lives in Antigua, so it was easy for me to go,” Ahlberg said. “It was absolutely wonderful.
“They go every other year or so, but I couldn’t wait that long, so I did my own trip and am going to go every year.”
Ahlberg decided to combine Worthington High School’s Trojan Relays on May 10 with his effort to help those in Guatemala. Ahlberg will have collection points at the gates of the Trojan Relays to collect shoes of all shapes and sizes. He will take some with him on his next trip to Guatemala and the rest will be sent to Soles4Souls — a nationwide charity that collects shoes for relief victims started by Wayne Elsey in the wake of the 2004 tsunami that hit Southwest Asia. It was an idea brought to him from Dr. Gregory Clark, who practices at the Avera Clinic in Worthington.
“Dr. Clark proposed the idea to me, and I thought it was great,” Ahlberg said. “There are about 600 athletes at the Trojan Relays, so we figured if we could get them involved, it would be great.
“High school kids go through shoes like crazy. There’s better places for the shoes than the closet.”
The track invite begins at 4 p.m. and shoes of all sizes can be delievered to the entrance.
“Nothing ratty,” Ahlberg said. “We need shoes from little kids to high school sizes and we’ll take new shoes as well, of course.”
The road of life requires shoes.
“Kids are walking the streets with rocks and trash all over and the kids are walking barefoot,” Ahlberg said recalling his last trip to Guatemala. “Sometimes they can’t go to school unless they have shoes.”
Ahlberg operates the scoreboards, but in life some points have an unlimited value.
“It’d be great to try to make this an annual thing,” Ahlberg said. “It’s amazing the kind of impact you can have with things that are just laying in your closet that could only get you 50 cents at a rummage sale.
“There’s no young adults or mentors there for these kids. These kids are roaming the streets. What kind of future do they have? They are never going to better themselves. Just by doing what you can for them can go a long way.”
Daily Globe Sports Editor Chris Murphy may be reached at 376-7328.