A new pair of shoes does not fail to make our day. Five-year-old Nicholas Lowinger was equally thrilled when he received light-up shoes from his parents. He could not wait to show it off to other kids in the shelter he and his mother were visiting. His mother knowingly advised him against wearing the new shoes because the place where they were going to was not a place to brag. Being the obedient boy that he was, he conceded. Upon seeing what the kids wore as shoes in the shelter, Nicholas fully understood what his mother meant.
The kids had tattered shoes, some were even barefoot. Obviously, shoes were not their priority. Parents in the shelter struggle with having to feed their kids every day, most of them did not know where to get food for the next day. How could they still think of getting them new shoes?
But the kids go to school. This is where the need for shoes is greatly felt. Some had to skip because it’s a sibling’s turn to wear the universal pair. It didn’t matter if the shoes were meant for girls or boys. They could not be choosy under the tight circumstances, could they? Male kids get teased by their classmates for wearing women’s shoes. Those who could not take the embarrassment just opt to give up school altogether.
So shoes can actually affect a person’s’ self-esteem—build it or shatter it. A decent pair of shoes that fits can give the wearer a sense of confidence. An ill-fitted pair of shoes, on the other hand, may cause the wearer to stay far away from the limelight. As young as he was, Nicholas was able to realize that there was a serious demand for shoes to be supplied to kids and teens whose parents, or lack thereof, deny them a comfy footwear. Most parents had no choice but leave out shoes and have their kids make do with what’s around because they have more needs to address. Is a pair of shoe more important than food?
That’s where Nicholas’ Gotta Have Soles come in. They provide kids and teens with brand new pair of shoes and make them ready to face the day more confidently. From being a school and religious requirement, Gotta Have Soles has grown into a nonprofit organization that has revolutionized charity work, helped young people start all over again, and relieved parents who had no means to provide their kids’ basic needs. In the words of Nicholas himself, “Not bad for a 13-year-old.”
Nicholas Lowinger was born to Daniel and Lori Lowinger in Rhode Island. He was raised in a Jewish home. His great, great grandfather was in the shoe business, while his father’s first job was designing shoes. Both his mother and grandmother love shoes. For as long as he could remember, shoes are something he abundantly had. With his parents being able to provide for him, he was never in want of shoes.
Lori was active in social work. She would always bring little Nicholas with her as often as she could whenever she visits shelters in the hope of teaching him how to appreciate what he has. But Lori herself would be surprised at how quickly Nicholas learned compassion and became a young humanitarian.
FOUNDING GOTTA HAVE SOLE
When he was 5 years old, Lori brought Nicholas to a shelter for the homeless. While in the car, Nicholas was excitedly telling his mom how thrilled the kids would be when they see his light up shoes. As naïve as he was, Nicholas thought the kids would be impressed to see something as cool as his new pair of shoes. Lori patiently explained to her son that they are headed to a place where people didn’t have enough, so showing off would be inappropriate.
Nicholas fully understood what Lori meant as soon as he began mingling with other children. He told a reporter:
"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. I've been very fortunate to grow up in a family that is able to provide me with whatever I need. A lot of kids here in the U.S. don't have the same opportunities." (SOURCE: Houston Style Magazine)
For a 5-year-old boy, it came as a shock to him that some kids did not have what he had. Kids would wear shoes that were either too big or too small for them. Their parents neither had the time nor the resources to give them a comfortable pair of shoes. Food would always come first. Sadly, that’s all their parents could afford.
Going to school was something kids worry about. Boys get teased or bullied because they wore shoes for women. Siblings would take turns wearing their sneakers, making their grades suffer because of truancy. Some teens were too embarrassed to wear shoes that did not fit them, so they just opted to drop school. A simple need such as a decent pair of shoes has a big impact on someone’s day to day experience as realized by the young Nicholas.
He did not waste time. The mother and son tandem rushed home and collected slightly used clothes and shoes to donate to kids in the shelter. Nicholas was happy to help. But as he gave the shoes away, he wondered if he was really able to do something because the shoes he gave were not the actual size of the recipients. One boy asked if he could have his boots. He happily obliged but was saddened because the boy’s feet were way too small for his boots. He knew he had to do something more.
When he turned 11 years old, Nicholas had to prepare for what Jewish tradition calls Bar Mitzvah, a coming of age ceremony. He needed to get involved in social projects to be of service to others. He knew what to do then. He asked shoe manufacturers if they could give shoes to kids in the shelters and also aksed help from donor who might be willing to shell out cash or give time to volunteer. He passed the requirement with flying colors. But he was not in it just for the grades. With the help of his parents, they established Gotta Have Sole. It’s a foundation that aims to distribute brand new shoes—that fit—to homeless kids and teens.
The Lowingers decided to keep the initiative going. During the first year, they were able to collect around 1100 pairs of shoes. The volunteers help to match the sizes with what the shelters forward to the organization. Depending on his availability, Nicholas would go with them to help distribute shoes.
The organization has since then became a 501(c)(3) organization that receives donations from companies with tax credit. Now, Nicholas’ Gotta Have Sole has helped 13,500 homeless kids and teenagers in shelters spanning 32 states. Gotta Have Sole has grown to have two major projects namely SOLEdiers and Serving Love.
Nicholas explains them in his website:
SOLEdiers, I launched this program in April 2013 to honor my grandfather, who is a WWII veteran. SOLEdiers provides gift cards to footwear retailers to our nation’s veterans who are living on or below the poverty line so they can purchase the footwear they need. This program also donates new footwear for their children. Through Operation Stand Down RI, I have donated gift cards to 65 veterans, and will be donating gift cards to over 500 veterans during their upcoming retreat scheduled for September 20-22 at Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland, RI. While currently available in RI and soon-to-be MA, plans are underway to take this program nationally.
Serving Love, a new program I launched in the fall of 2012 donates new sporting footwear to children from disadvantaged homes, who want to play sports but lack the proper footwear to do so. I am currently working with a local non-profit in RI that provides tennis lessons at no charge... (SOURCE: Gotta Have Sole)
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Operation Stand Down RI
- Serving Love
- Serving Love
- Gotta Have Sole
- National Day of Service and Remembrance
Awards and Achievements
- 2010: Founded Gotta Have Sole
- 2011: Won Rhode Island Jefferson Award
- 2011: Received the Hasbro Community Action Hero Award
- 2011: Received Youth Leader Award from the Women's Center of Rhode Island
- 2011: Received the Rainbow Award from Street Sights
- 2012: Received the Rhode Island Prudential Spirit of Community Award
- 2012: Launched Serving Love
- 2012: Named Build-A-Bear Huggable Hero
- 2012: Included in Farm Rich Kids Who Give
- 2012: Recipient of the Presidential Volunteer Service Gold Level
- 2013: Launched SOLEdiers
- 2013: Received the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award
- 2013: Received the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award
- 2013: Received the Myra Kraft Community MVP Award
- 2013: Named Make A Difference Day National Honoree
- 2013: Named Global Teen Leader by We Are Family Foundation
- 2013: Named Kohl’s Cares Regional & National Winner
- 2013: Won Youth Service Challenge Award
- 2013: Named one of CNN Heroes
- 2013: Awarded the Peace First Prize from Peace a First
Business Innovation Factory (Nicholas Lowinger)
Gotta Have Sole (About)
Gotta Have Sole (History)
Facebook (Gotta Have Sole Foundation, Inc.)
Gotta Have Sole (Awards & Recognition)
Gotta Have Sole (2nd Annual Tennis Tournament)
CNN (Helping homeless kids put their best foot forward)
Samaritan Mag (Teen CNN Heroes Nominee Nicholas Lowinger Expands Gotta Have Sole)
Huffington Post (Lesson From NYPD's Larry DePrimo: How You Can Donate Shoes To Homeless)
Cranston Patch (Founder of Charity, 14, Recognized for Work Providing Shoes to Homeless Kids)
Inspire my Kids (Nicholas Lowinger – Incredible Teen Has Sole for the Homeless)
Go Local Prov 9Gotta Have Sole: Teen Non-Profit Entrepreneur Nicholas Lowinger)
Houston Style Magazine (Helping Homeless Kids Put Their Best Foot Forward)
Be A Social Entrepreneur (Nick Lowinger, Founder of the Gotta Have Sole Foundation)
Book Fare (Toastworthy Teens - Nicholas Lowinger)
USA Today (9-11 Day of Service: Nick Lowinger steps up to give homeless children new shoes)