By Kevin Keenan, communication intern in the Office of University Relations
Marquette University Police Department Lt. Jim Hensley is known around campus these days as “Blue’s Dad.” He is, after all, the officer who handles Blue, MUPD’s new community outreach dog.
But “blue” has an even deeper meaning for Hensley, who, in the spirit of Marquette’s Catholic, Jesuit mission and values, started a nonprofit organization, the Blue Bag Program.
The Blue Bag story begins about 10 years ago when Hensley and his wife, Carol, visited South Africa. There they saw many children wearing tattered clothing; others were barefoot or wore inexpensive flip-flops they soon outgrew.
After returning home, Carol found a nonprofit organization (The Shoe that Grows) that makes adjustable sandals designed to accommodate children’s quickly growing feet — up to five sizes.
Just a few years later, Jim worked with friends who own and operate safari tour company Chivic African Safaris to bring more than 150 pairs of the sandals and distribute them to kids at orphanages and a school.
“When I brought the sandals over, it was such an incredible experience, it led me to expand that premise and I created the Blue Bag Program within Chivic,” Hensley says. “The program is designed for travelers wanting to participate; I provide them with a large duffel bag at no expense. I then contact the airline, who agrees to fly the bags over at no cost to the travelers.”
Once in South Africa, Hensley and the travelers plan a day trip to a school or orphanage, where they personally deliver the bags filled with school supplies, clothes and toys to the kids.
To date, Hensley and the Blue Bag Program have delivered approximately 75 bags — just shy of two tons — of goods.
The Hensleys’ good work doesn’t end there. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced several schools to shut down in the Limpopo Province in the northernmost part of South Africa.
“Without an education, the local kids have no realistic chance at anything more than subsistence living,” Hensley says. “This drove me to figure out all the costs and logistics needed to build a school in the area.”
And so they did.
Jim and Carol Hensley are building a school near the town of Gravelotte — no other school exists within a two-hour drive.
The South African government has taken note and pledged two teachers to work at the school.
The school will be able to enroll around 65 kids, with plans for two future additions, including a dining hall so the students do not have to eat on the ground, as well as a classroom designed for older children and teens who have a desire to continue their education.
If interested in donating and helping the Blue Bag Program, reach out to Jim Hensley directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.