It was a horrific traffic crash on Independence Day that altered three lives.
It also resulted in more than 4,500 children’s lives being made a little better ,and a recent change in state law means even more could get help.
Steven Welch, a delivery man for Domino’s Pizza at night and a computer science student by day, was killed July 4, 2001, as he was making his last delivery. His car was struck broadside by a Mitsubishi driven by Scott Sucharew at Equestrian Trail and the Warner-Elliot Loop.
Police say Sucharew was drunk, with a blood alcohol level of 0.141, when he began racing at over 70 mph with then-Desert Vista High School junior Weston Doyle.
Sucharew, a former U.S. Army medic, staggered away from the crash, and attempted to hide from police. Doyle lost control of his Mustang and slammed into a wall. Welch died almost immediately at the scene and firefighters had to use heavy equipment to extricate him from his car.
In the end, Sucharew was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the second-degree murder of Welch, and Doyle received two years probation for racing and reckless driving.
And that would have been the end of the story, expect Welch’s mother, Pat, wanted a way to remember her son.
At the time, as a teacher in the Cartwright Elementary School District, she was very familiar with students and families who consider a new pair of shoes and socks a luxury, so she created Tennies From Heaven to honor her son.
Since 2002, Pat and her 89-year-old mother, Evelyn Hagar, collect and then distribute shoes and socks to students in some of the poorer schools in the area, working with teachers and school nurses.
“The faces tell you a lot, they are smiling, thanking us. Boys are the pickiest,” Pat said. “That was a surprise: we thought girls would be the pickiest.”
But at times it’s been difficult for Pat, who retired several years ago.
“We don’t get a lot of monetary donations … I just stretch the money as far as I can,” she said.
At one point there was just $7.06 in the checking account when an Ahwatukee Foothills man donated $1,000. And over the years Payless Shoes and The BAR Personal Training Studio in Ahwatukee Foothills have conducted annual shoe drives that have benefited Tennies From Heaven.
“I see a penny on the ground and I say, 'OK Steve, I’ll go on,’” Pat said.
Now, a change in Arizona law this summer may help Pat and Tennies From Heaven continue to provide tennis shoes and socks to deserving students.
Arizona law provides a charitable tax credit for cash contributions made to qualifying organizations that provide help to the working poor and Pat Welch said that Tennies From Heaven has been listed as a qualifying charity for several years. But until recently donors had a complicated reporting process that made it difficult for some to donate.
Changes in the law eliminate an old requirement that taxpayers go back to 1996 to establish a baseline for contributions. Now donations up to $200 per person, or $400 per couple, qualify for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on the itemized 2009 Arizona income tax return. And because Tennies From Heaven is a qualified charity with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), donations are also tax deductible on itemized federal income tax returns.
Tennies From Heaven runs solely on donations and all the money goes for new shoes and socks for needy children. Pat hopes that a financial shot in the arm will allow her to expand the number of children she serves each year.
“I’m just so excited,” she said.