Project: Gotta Have Sole Foundation, Inc.
Hometown: Cranston, RI
I started donating brand-new footwear to infants, children and teens who were living in homeless shelters. Over the past year and a half, I have donated new shoes and sneakers to over 900 children in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC. We have over 500 volunteers of all ages, who help us collect, label, distribute and ship the footwear to the shelters.
Special training or skills needed:
I volunteered at homeless shelters, which helped me see what the children living there needed in order to have a better life. It also made me understand that children who are homeless are just like any other kids, but their families have fallen on hard times.
I learned how to apply for grants and make charts about my program, and to write letters to companies and private individuals asking them to support what I am doing. I also learned how to speak in front of large audiences at schools, and to boards of directors of companies.
How to get everyone on the same page:
It was difficult and costly in the beginning when shelters would not let me know when families were no longer living in the shelter and I had already bought the footwear for them. While this still occurs, it is much less frequent. I have met with the shelter advocates to encourage them to let me know if any resident is scheduled to leave so I can get there with their shoes before they go.
Tip: Keep lines of
Helpful people and orgs:
My school was really helpful. They held a Jazz Concert to benefit my project, organized a shoe drive, and directed students to me for volunteer opportunities.
Staples and OfficeMax printed a lot of my flyers and materials without charging me, which saved me a lot of money.
My parents helped me get nonprofit status, which also saved us a lot of money.
Local newspapers wrote stories about what I was doing and the local television station aired a story. This made my community more aware of what I was doing and helped increase donations and volunteers. The national newspaper that published a story about my project contacted me after hearing about an award I received and shelters and people from other states have gotten involved because of it.
WalMart and many footwear companies have been extremely supportive of what I am doing, donating thousands of new shoes as well as monetary donations.
How to reach out to other orgs:
I spoke with the head of my middle school to see if I could organize an event at the school that would benefit what I was doing and he coordinated a concert with my music teacher. He also started the school-wide shoe drive. I went into OfficeMax and Staples and spoke with the store managers to see if I could get a discount on printing and both stores said they would not charge me at all. I called and wrote letters to the editors of the local newspapers to let them know what I was doing and what events were coming up. I called the local WalMart where I buy some of the footwear that the shelters need to explain what I was doing and to ask for a discount and met the marketing assistant. She has organized 2 major shoe donations!
Tip: Start locally! Get a project
going at school then reach out
to companies and organizations.
Internet: I looked up on the web charities that donate to shelters.
Facebook was a really good place for me to try to get volunteers. I started a page for Gotta Have Sole Foundation and post everything we do there so people can see what I have been doing and what opportunities we have coming up.
I found a website in my state that lists volunteer opportunities and have had great response from my community through this organization.
United States Patent and Trademark Office: I also looked them up for information on how to trademark our logo and company name.
IRS: We used their website to learn about becoming a nonprofit.
I needed a computer with Internet access, printer, copier, phone, lots of paper, pens, labels, shipping boxes and packing tape, but most of all, new footwear.
Word to the wise:
Follow your dreams, no matter how small they seem to be. Kids can really make a difference in the lives of others. We are also good role models for other kids who see that we are doing things and volunteering to make the world a better place.
Always write down the name, time, and date that you talked to someone on the phone. Keep their contact info, too. This is helpful if anyone ever asks you who you spoke with and when.
Make sure you write a thank you note to any company, school or person that donates to you or volunteers with you. This makes them feel really good and they will probably help you again. Also, if anyone donates product or money, the letter is good for them for their taxes at the end of the year.
I guest blogged for The White House's "For the Win"
Watch him speak!
Watch Nick's talk about how he got his org up and running at the Business Innovation Factory.
How to jump on the movement:
There are a number of ways people can get involved with Gotta Have Sole Foundation. You can hold shoe drives at your schools or religious centers for brand-new footwear and we’ll send you our labels for them, or you can hold bake sales or car washes to raise money for us and we’ll purchase the shoes and send them to the shelters where you can hand them out to the kids yourself! Kids in shelters are just like we are and they love to see kids their age taking an interest in them!
Check out our website, and our Facebook page where you can see our progress, what states our program is in, and what our volunteer needs are. We have a lot of kids who, with our guidance are doing this for shelters in their states. I’ve also attached a flyer that I send to people who are interested in my program.