Since launching “Down To Earth Education” in 1984, Loretta Penny has delivered over 4000 presentations on issues of environmental, cultural, and historical significance.
Some of her most important work is with students in Ontario’s schools. It is here that Loretta Penny provides real world learning that educates, engages, and empowers students, using presentations that incorporate impactful, interactive displays.
“As a guest presenter in schools, camps, and libraries, I am always looking for new stories to share with the youth audience,” says Penny. “Stories that offer a fresh and true perspective on the world. Stories that both educate and motivate children to take action and build a better world.”
Seven years ago Loretta Penny was approached by a school Principal with a request of her to build a show around everyday world issues from a Canadian perspective.
“Admittedly, I was initially stumped. Which local issue would a student find interesting enough that they would feel compelled to take action?” states Penny.
That same day, tucked inside the local newspaper was an article about Haven Toronto, formerly The Good Neighbours club. The article spoke about a group of homeless and marginalized men in Toronto who were raising funds locally to help earthquake victims in Japan.
“I had to read the heading twice,” says Loretta Penny. “I couldn’t help but think of the irony. That homeless men here were willing to help homeless men and women elsewhere.”
Penny continues, “Then it dawned on me. Who better to understand the desperation of someone in need than someone in need. Instantly, I knew what my new school presentation would be about.”
In planning and preparing, Loretta Penny met with Haven Toronto staff and the drop-in centre’s clients. Many of the elder men willingly shared their stories. Sad stories. Courageous stories. Stories of hope. The vulnerably honest, one-on-one conversations provided Penny with a rich perspective of life for Toronto’s Poor and homeless around which she developed the show, “In My Shoes”.
“The new presentation was enthusiastically embraced by schools across Ontario,” states Penny. “And it still is,” adding “Using powerful visuals, students and staff vicariously assumed the role of these men. In less than one hour, they have a better understanding of homelessness and the realizations that hard times can befall any of us.”
Since its debut, “In My shoes” has empowered hundreds of students to collect articles of clothing and toiletries for people who are homeless, including the men at Haven Toronto. One group of grade 5 and 6 students even created a “Homeless Club”. During their lunch hour, these students would take clothing that they collected and place the items in beautifully decorated bags with personalized cards inside.
One of the most impactful experiences that Loretta Penny speaks of involved a student so moved by the “In My shoes” presentation, by what he heard and saw, that immediately following the show he removed his shoes to donate in a gesture of compassion. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the school,” states Penny.
“In My Shoes” reinforces that it doesn’t take much to affect positive change; that education has the power to empower.
Loretta Penny and “Down To Earth” education reminds participants that, “By putting ourselves into the shoes of another, we can slowly peel away the preconceived perceptions of homelessness, and truly change the world.” Adds Penny, “As an educator, that is the best news I can ask for.