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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

MUPD Lieutenant starts “Blue Bag Program”

After visiting South African nearly 10 years ago, Jim Hensley realized he wanted to help the children in poverty.

After visiting South Africa for the first time nearly 10 years ago, Jim Hensley, lieutenant of Support Services at the Marquette University Police Department, started a Blue Bag Program to bring donations to children in poverty.

Within the Blue Bag Program itself, Jim said they mainly focus on bringing toys, clothes and school supplies to the children. Jim said he visits the northeast corner of South Africa during his trips. He said oftentimes we take these items for granted, so it means a lot to be able to bring these things over to the children.

Since then, Jim has brought over 75 bags at nearly 50 pounds each to four different schools and an orphanage.

“It really kind of centers yourself and resets your priorities because whatever you got going on here, your concerns, worries, when you think about how they’re living and what they’re concerned about, it’s really nothing,” Jim said.

When he returned home from his original trip, Jim was telling his wife, Carol Hensley, about how many of the children didn’t even have shoes. After hearing his story, Carol started looking for ways they could help the children and came across ‘The Shoe That Grows.”

“And he’s [Jim] always looking out for the best for everyone else. He always wants to give and that’s just how he is. He’s always been that way for as long as I’ve known him. It’s one of the things I love about him,” Carol said.

Jim said the organization itself is a nonprofit that creates these adjustable shoes both in width and length up to five or six sizes.

He said although some of the kids didn’t have shoes, the ones who did, most of their shoes were either flip-flops or tennis shoes with the toe cut out.

When the two of them reached out to The Shoe That Grows, they found that each shoe costs around $17 a pair, but if they bought 50 pairs they would provide them with a duffel bag to bring them over.

“So I went to my co-workers, at the time I was working with the Milwaukee Police Department … and got them all to buy at least one pair of shoes. Several of them bought a couple pairs and I took that over there,” Jim said.

One of his friends, Mylinda Barisas, heard about Jim’s Blue Bag Program and decided she wanted to participate in it too.

“I’ve never been to Africa before and I said, ‘Well, can I do that?'” Barisas said.

Now, Barisas has been to Africa three times, each time bringing a blue bag with her. One of her favorite moments was teaching the children how to throw a frisbee.

“It’s one thing to donate money to somebody and you don’t really see where it goes or what happens, but it’s another thing to actually go and give things and help people directly with your own hands,” Barisas said.

Jim said Carol and him bounce ideas off of each other to figure out what to bring in the bags during their trips. One of the ideas Carol had, was to bring nail polish — something he said he would never have thought of.

After talking to a family that lives in South Africa that Carol and Jim have grown close with, the family said nail polish would be a great idea and is a luxury most of the kids would never even think of having.

“While I was playing soccer with some of the boys, all the little girls were lined up and they did their nails,” Jim said. “They kind of had them dried and then they literally started running up the street, and they’re banging on the houses in town, and they were like ‘check out my nails.'”

Over the course of their trips, Jim said they’ve grown to know some of the children. So he said it’s heartwarming to think about them enjoying the items that they’ve brought them in the past.

“The kids come running up to Jim because they remember him and they say ‘Mr. Jim, Mr. Jim’ and they give him this huge gigantic hug and the smile that Jim has on his face when he’s with those kids,” Carol said.

One of their previous trips, they went to a school they hadn’t visited yet. When he arrived, Jim said he realized the school was operating out of a woman’s house.

Jim said once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many schools were affected, so he started thinking about the logistics of building a school in this village.

“When I figured out the logistics and rough ideas on the costs, my wife and I talked about it, and we pulled money out of our retirement fund and that’s what funded it,” Jim said.

This school, Jim said, has two rooms, a shower and flushing toilets.

To Carol, she said that’s how Jim is — he notices a problem and he wants to give back.

As far as future plans, Jim said he wants to add on to the school and build a kitchen area. He also mentioned creating a secondary school that would be similar to a high school for kids who want to further their education.

“I have a different outlook on life because it truly does put in perspective all the worries and concerns that you have, and this is just one tiny part of South Africa which is just one country of many in Africa that are all doing the same thing. So it really helps me see the bigger picture and because of that I’ve led a much happier life,” Jim said.

Timothy Littau contributed to this story

This story was written by Julia Abuzzahab. She can be reached at [email protected] 

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About the Contributor
Julia Abuzzahab, Executive Projects Editor
Julia Abuzzahab is a senior from Wausau, Wisconsin studying journalism and film and media studies and is the Executive Projects Editor of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. Prior to this position, she served as the Executive News Editor for the organization. Outside of the Wire, she enjoys playing piano and seeing her friends. She is most excited to see all of the work her and her team accomplish this year and spending time with her friends in the newsroom.  

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