A few years ago, Juan and his mother were living a nightmare. They both suffered at the hands of Juan’s alcoholic, abusive father. Juan’s mother was faced with an impossible decision – remain and keep a roof over her son’s head, at the price of continual abuse, or leave with nothing and face the uncertainty of homelessness. One night, she and Juan made the courageous decision to flee.
They waited until Juan’s father had passed out, grabbed nothing but shoes and coats, and fled to a homeless shelter. Juan realized too late that, in his haste, the shoes he’d grabbed – the first shoes he could find – were his mother’s fur-lined boots. The shelter didn’t have any shoes he could use and no extra funds to provide them. Juan had to step into his new life in the ill-suited, feminine boots.
The wrong pair of shoes might seem like a trivial thing to worry about, given what Juan and his mother had just escaped, but they actually played a huge part in Juan’s experience of his new school. Day after day, he wore the boots and day after day he — the new kid that wore women’s boots — was ridiculed and bullied by his peers.
Usually a good student who loved going to class, Juan’s self-esteem dropped and he began refusing to attend school. Things got worse and worse until he could barely be persuaded to set foot outside the shelter. Worried, his mother spoke to a case manager who, fortunately, called Gotta Have Sole Foundation that same night.
“This is when having a garage full of new inventory is helpful,” says Nicholas Lowinger, the 17 year-old founder of Gotta Have Sole and 2015 World of Children Youth Honoree. “Not only did we have Juan’s size in stock, but we were able to drive to the shelter that night, so Juan would have his new shoes for school the next day.”
Nicholas personally presented the new sneakers to Juan, who broke down and cried. It was the first new pair of shoes he’d had in his life. Juan went back to school the next day with renewed confidence. A simple gift of shoes, something so many of us might take for granted, gave Juan back his chance to make new friends at school and pursue his education.
Nicholas Lowinger is the recipient of the 2015 World of Children Youth Award. To learn more about Nicholas and Gotta Have Sole Foundation visit: worldofchildren.org/nicholas