HALO Award Honoree Nicholas Lowinger Talks Gotta Have Sole!
16-year-old Nicholas Lowinger is the founder of the Gotta Have Sole Foundation, which donates new shoes to children in homeless shelters. He's also one of the HALO Award honorees of 2014, and he spoke with us in a recent interview about his incredible work!
When Nicholas was 5, his mother, an art therapist, took him to volunteer at a homeless shelter.
"She wanted me to see how other people live and ultimately be more appreciative of everything I had," he said.
Many of the kids at the shelter were about Nicholas's age or a little older. Nicholas spoke with them, curious about their lives, with an eye out for something his mother had mentioned.
"My mom had told me that there might be some kids who don't actually have their own shoes, so I was really paying attention to that," Nicholas said.
He quickly discovered that this was the case. Some kids had no shoes, while others wore shoes bound together with duct tape.
This detail stuck out to him particularly because he had just received a pair of shiny new sneakers. Quickly, he realized that a new pair of shoes is about a lot more than appearance.
"Since shoes are meant to get us from point A to point B, it's really important to have something that's comfortable, that you're proud to wear," he said.
Furthermore, when shoes get really worn down, they can become unsafe to wear.
Kids who wear duct taped shoes or must share shoes with siblings are also frequent targets of teasing or worse.
"Obviously bullying is a big issue, especially among kids and teens," he said. "Sometimes that was actually stopping them from going to school every day or playing sports or being with their friends.
The concept shocked 5-year-old Nicholas, who saw each of these things as such pivotal moments in the life of a kid.
Nicholas decided he had to do something. When he got home, he went through his shoes, separated the pairs he didn't use often, and donated them when he returned to the shelter. The experience led to another realization.
"There's a big difference between donating used footwear and used clothing," he explained. "With used clothing, anyone can wash it and put it in the dryer and when it comes out, it's like it's brand new again. With footwear, when someone wears their shoes, they're worn out and won't fit another person properly and as comfortably as a brand new pair would."
He believed if he didn't step in to make a difference, no one would. So when he was 12 years old and getting ready to do a service to the community for his Bar Mitzvah project, he already had the perfect project in mind.
"Because of the passion that I'd had for such a long time, it made perfect sense to provide new shoes for homeless kids," he said.
When Nicholas mentioned the project was something he wanted to continue for as long as he could, his parents recommended he start a non-profit.
"A lot of Bar Mitzvah projects are a one-time donation and that's it," he said. "I wanted to continue this be able to help as many kids as possible."
The result was his charity, Gotta Have Sole.
In the beginning, Nicholas focused on donating to a single shelter in his home state of Rhode Island. As the charity continued, Nicholas realized there was a need to supply shoes not just across the state but to kids in every state, and decided to try to meet that need.
"I had a moral obligation to help those kids so that every homeless kid could have equal opportunities," he said.
Nicholas began his charity hoping it would make even a dent in the issue, but as time went on, Gotta Have Sole increased its reach through word of mouth. Shelters from across the United States have reached out to Nicholas for help.
It was all possible because people in his community joined him to assemble around the issue, donating new shoes, volunteering and organizing what they collect to get them to kids of the right age, gender and shoe size.
They've also expanded through five Gotta Have Sole clubs in high schools, where students run fundraising drives to buy footwear for local shelters.
Even if Nicholas can't physically be there whenever shelters receive new pairs of shoes, his support is felt around the country.
"It's had an enormous impact on my life," Nicholas said. "I know that I can make a big difference in the world. Something my grandfather's been saying for a while is 'the best is yet to come' and every time we get to expand into a new state or help another child, I consider that to really go with his saying."
Most of all, Nicholas hopes to inspire other kids to go out into the world and make a difference.
"If I can show other people how to do that, then it'll really help make the world a more peaceful place and eliminate some of the injustices that exist right now," he said.
Since its creation, Gotta Have Sole has donated new shoes to more than 20,500 kids in 35 states across the United States, and its on the way to helping a lot more people!
See Nicholas Lowinger honored at the 2014 HALO Awards on Nickelodeon and more on November 30 and stay tuned for more interviews with this year's HALO Award honorees. You can also tell us about the differences you make in our community at Sweety High!