2015 YOUTH AWARD
Gotta Have Soul Foundation
Nicholas Lowinger remembers a teenage boy and girl who had to share a pair of shoes so they could take turns going to school every other day. The shared pair was a sparkly, pink pair of girls shoes that caused unending embarrassment for the boy. But thanks to Nicholas, a pair of new basketball shoes changed everything — the boy regained his self-esteem, got caught up in school and now hopes to go to college.
In homeless shelters throughout the United States, scenarios like this play out every day. Nicholas feels that homeless children shouldn’t have to worry about fitting in; they shouldn’t have fewer opportunities, like not being able to play sports or go to school because they don’t have a pair of shoes.
That’s why Nicholas started the Gotta Have Sole Foundation, initially as a community service project, to provide new footwear to children in homeless shelters in the U.S. However, he didn’t want it to stop there; he wanted it to grow and be something that would continue to provide shoes to homeless children. Today, Gotta Have Sole has donated new footwear to over 42,000 children in homeless shelters in 36 states throughout the United States. Nicholas’ goal is to reach as many children living in homeless shelters in the U.S. as he can.
The 17-year-old runs his foundation out of his family’s garage. It is full of new shoes donated from shoe companies and shoe stores. Nicholas takes orders for shoes from all over the country. If he doesn’t have the right shoe and/or size, he uses the donations his organization receives to buy them. The shoes are then shipped out to whoever needs them and whenever he can, Nicholas delivers them in person.
Nicholas has expanded his efforts to involve peers in collecting and donating footwear. The Gotta Have Sole student clubs raise awareness of the problems facing homeless youth and provide young people with an opportunity to support and empower their homeless peers.
Nicholas hopes that children will feel more confident about themselves because they have new shoes to call their own, and that they will have the same opportunities afforded to them as their peers.