Lisa and the League of Kindness

By Tammy Keith

Lisa Barber’s friends and family say there were two indisputable facts about her: She was kind-hearted to the core and loved a good pair of shoes. 

Lisa died of a pulmonary embolism in February 2020 following a brief illness.

Kim Reed (from left), reading interventionist at Vilonia Primary School, and counselor Cindy Fortson are integral in making sure children who need new shoes are served.

“Her main priorities were her faith, her family, and, really, it’s a cliche, but just to be kind,” Sean Barber of Saltillo said about his late wife. “Kindness to others was so important to her.” Lisa was a paraprofessional at Vilonia Elementary School. “She loved the kids; that was her main passion.” The couple have two children, Morgan Barber, 30, of Clearwater, Fla., and Braxton Barber, 26, of Conway.

Braxton said he wanted to do something to honor his mother’s memory, a woman he described as “someone who would rather have nothing so others could have something.”

Lisa’s Closet was created in 2021 after Braxton had a brainstorming meeting with a few of his mother’s close friends and co-workers; then he approached his dad with the idea. Her love of shoes was a family joke. “I called it an unhealthy obsession,” Sean said, laughing. “She had a closet full.”

The 501(C)3 nonprofit provides new shoes and socks and sometimes coats and belts to Vilonia students in grades K-12. Younger students each receive a book on kindness with a note in it telling about Lisa and the project. Lisa’s Closet started in the primary school and expanded into every building. To date, about 500 students have received shoes; some students are repeat recipients.

The charity originally contributed to Vilonia’s backpack program that sends food home with students on Fridays. Lisa had been involved with that project, but the churches are doing a good job filling that need, Sean said. Shoe recipients are students enrolled in the backpack program.

Sean, who is president of Lisa’s Closet’s 10-member board of directors, said Kim Reed, a reading interventionist at Vilonia Primary School and close friend of Lisa’s, suggested the books.

Reed said she wishes everyone could have known Lisa. “She loved with every piece of her being; you never saw her that she didn’t hug you, say that she loved you. She adored children, absolutely adored them. Lisa loved shoes; that was one of her little vices. We decided to do Lisa’s Closet and have shoes for the kids. She loved children, she loved shoes, so this would be a perfect combo,” she said.

Sean Barber, his son, Braxton, daughter-in-law Mindy Barber and grandson Reece show some of the new shoes from Lisa’s Closet at Vilonia Primary School. The closet is dedicated in memory of Sean’s late wife, Lisa, a paraprofessional at Vilonia Elementary School.

Lisa Barber Be Kind Poker Classic that is held each June, and counselors purchase the shoes. The fourth annual event is June 22 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Conway, and more information is available at the new website

Reed, who coordinates the program for the schools, said the counselors are “fabulous.” They organize the shoes by size and gender and store them at the schools. Shoes are given in the fall and right before the end of the school year, but also throughout the year when a need arises, Kim said. She said students have come to school with “duct tape holding their shoes together” or hand-me-downs that don’t fit. Kim said the shoes are given out discreetly to older students to ensure they are not embarrassed.

Braxton said his mother had a heart for children in need. “It tore my mom apart to see kids as sweet as they can be showing up with clothes that were dirty and shoes you wouldn’t put on your kids if you didn’t have to,” he said.

Braxton’s wife, Mindy, is a third-grade teacher at Vilonia Primary School. She has seen firsthand the impact Lisa’s Closet has had on the children.

“I have multiple students in my personal class who’ll tell you their favorite days are when they get shoes,” Mindy said. “They [the counselors] buy the fun, light-up shoes. The students stomp around in the hallways; they just love it. They wear them every day.

“Every year it makes me emotional … their faces are so excited. Lisa would absolutely cherish this. She is just helping so many people, even though she’s not here anymore. Parents say this has been a burden lifted from their shoulders.”

Sean said the project has exceeded his expectations. “So many of these kids, honestly, have nothing, so we don’t think about how a simple pair of tennis shoes can change that kid’s outlook. Even if it’s for that day, they feel like everybody else. A small gesture like that can have a huge impact on their lives.” Sean said the long-term goal is to expand Lisa’s Closet into other school districts. It is seeking a grant, and he would love to partner with a shoe store or brand to provide shoes to children.

Braxton said he thinks his mother “would be overjoyed” at what the charity has accomplished. “I think every time a kid got a new pair of shoes she’d have a crying episode, she’d be so happy,” he said. “Having her name on something so impactful to so many kids would kind of blow her away. It is a blessing to remember her in that way. She’s finally able to do the things she always wanted to.”

Shoes wear out, but Lisa’s legacy of kindness is lasting.