By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Author’s Note: Grace Under Pressure is an ongoing series of posts honoring everyday people who courageously make positive differences in their own lives and consequently in the lives of others. It is my own personal affirmation that unexpected heroes live among us and that their service is quiet but unshakable proof that virtue really is its own reward – and ours, too.
Five-year-old Nicholas Lowinger was looking forward to accompanying his mom who was performing some community work at the local homeless shelter. His mom had told him that other kids would be there to play with him (unlike some of those adults only borefests that he had to suffer through) and Nicholas wanted to show off his new light up sneakers. Nicholas’ mom cautioned him to put the sneakers away because many of the kids wouldn’t have luxuries like light up shoes. When Nicholas got to the shelter he found that some of the kids had no shoes at all and that got the boy thinking.
“I saw other kids my age who looked just like me. The only difference was, they were wearing old, tattered shoes that were falling apart. Some didn’t have a pair of shoes to call their own,” said Nicholas. The youngster was profoundly impressed by the embarrassment he saw in their eyes and decided to do more than just pity his peers. Now, ten years later, Nicholas has provided over 10,000 pairs of new shoes to homeless kids all across America.
Like most great endeavors it started out small. Young Nicholas donated all the shoes he’d outgrown to his local shelter but soon realized that was a drop in a much too large bucket. At age 12 and with his parents support, he founded the Gotta Have Sole foundation which solicited donated shoes for distribution to the kids who needed them. The idea was simple: “By giving new footwear to homeless children, I’m making sure them and their families have at least one less thing to worry about,” Nicholas said. “I’m also allowing parents to save money for an apartment or food for their next meal.”
And the self-conscious like every other teenage had another motive as well. Hearing of a 16-year-old kid who fled an abusive home with only his mother’s old winter boots on his feet and who faced relentless teasing at school, Nicholas decided shoes were more than just mere clothing for kids. “Homeless children, they shouldn’t have to worry about how they’ll be accepted or how they’ll fit in,” Nicholas said. “They shouldn’t have to worry about not being able to play sports or go to school because they don’t have a pair of shoes.”
More than 1,000 volunteers have signed to help Gotta Have Sole over the past three years, and Nicholas puts in at least 15 hours a week on the project amid his school work and other activities. He’d do more but his parents had to limit him. Nicholas stores the donated shoes in his garage and tries to deliver a lot of them himself.
But what pushed a five-year-old kid to make a decade and beyond long commitment to homeless kids? “I didn’t want to make one donation and stop there,” he said. “I wanted it to be something I could do for the rest of my life.” And the life changing endeavor has had wonderful effects on others.
Frencis Velasquez is in her 20s and has three young children. She was faced with the choice between buying food or buying shoes and the decision was obvious. Now a recipient of Gotta Have Sole, Velasquez sees the smiles on her kids faces. “Having new shoes makes them feel great,” Velasquez said. “I remember when one of my sons got his first pair, he was so excited that he just started kissing the shoes. It makes me feel awesome just knowing that they’re happy.”
And Nicholas seems to like making people happy and asking other teens to so the same. “No one is ever too young or old to help others. Kids don’t always realize that they have the power to make a difference,” Nicholas said. “I urge other kids to find a passion, create big ideas and act. Kids can make a huge difference in this world.”
So the next time you hear somebody complaining about our spoiled, self-absorbed, X-box obsessed youth remind them of Nicholas Lowinger and the Gotta Have Sole foundation. And ask them how many homeless kids they made smile this holiday.
Happy Holidays Nicholas. You really do understand the reason for the season.
You can find the Gotta Have Sole website here.
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger