IT’S EASY TO get caught up in the statistics. Soles4Souls employs more than 30 staffers who provide free footwear to an endless list of qualified recipients around the world. Now in our sixth year, we’ve donated more than 11.5 million pairs, yet an estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide still do not own a single pair of shoes. To that end, we remain committed to our mission statement: “Changing the world one pair at a time.” But when we look beyond the numbers, we see Soles4Souls as something other than just a distributor of shoes to people in need. We see an organization that enables people to band together—creating a wide range of communities—in an effort to provide hope to people in seemingly hopeless situations. What do you see: hundreds of shoe distributions, or events that establish countless new relationships? We’ve held hundreds of major distribution events this year—912 worldwide, to be exact—from handing out 85,000 pairs to flood victims in our hometown of Nashville, TN, to giving new shoes to orphans in Haiti. We’ve overcome massive physical and political obstacles in order to deliver shoes to people suffering in the wake of natural disasters and those living in extreme poverty. And while doing so, we’ve seen many new relationships form between companies, organizations, civic groups, governments and ordinary citizens—simply because we worked together to deliver the gift of shoes. What do you see: thousands of fans, or thousands of empowered ambassadors? Soles4Souls has inspired schools, shoe stores, businesses, neighborhoods, places of worship and families to join our cause. Many subsequently become our advocates and then reach out to their own respective communities for help with our mission. In our eyes, shoes aren’t just a compilation of leather, rubber and laces; we view them as an instigator for reaching out to others. What do you see: millions of shoes or millions of smiles? Occasionally, we receive feedback from those who say that donated shoes aren’t a top priority in the grand scheme of things. Some suggest that we direct our resources to providing food, water, medical care, housing and education, which are all critical needs. In fact, Soles4Souls works with many trusted charitable organizations to help provide
Wayne Elsey on the ground in Haiti, giving out shoes and hugs to people in need.
a total relief package. But beyond that, we believe footwear holds a crucial place in the list of basic human needs. Shoes can prevent infection, ultimately saving lives, and a new pair can help restore a person’s dignity. We are extremely proud to be that bridge, providing a secure, reliable donation channel from donors to people in need. As a result, we bring smiles to millions of people—many who have never owned shoes before—and contributors who have the comfort of knowing that their donations are being put to the best possible use. What do you see: billions of people in need or endless opportunities to provide hope? Soles4Souls cannot change the situation for billions of people alone. We need to start with just one person: you. When you join us, we are one step closer to ensuring that all of those people in need can eventually take care of themselves. We don’t see ourselves as an organization that “gives away shoes” but rather a way you can provide hope to another person in need. So join us in changing the world—one pair at a time. Wishing you happiness and health, Wayne Elsey Founder and CEO, Soles4Souls
AS AN EVENT planner and marketer for Soles4Souls, Mehgan Heaton had helped members of her organization bring supplies and shoes to some of the world’s hardest-hit disaster zones—from Haiti to Pakistan to the Philippines. But she never imagined she would witness a natural disaster in her own hometown of Nashville, TN. But during the first week of May, torrential rains caused massive flooding, submerging the city and many of its iconic landmarks, including the Grand Ole Opry—and even threatened Heaton’s own home. “Neighbors were pouring out of the apartments and grabbing their most valuable items,” she remembers. “Many people didn’t receive word in time to evacuate, so their cars 2
and belongings were waist-high in water and utterly damaged.” Crystal Elsey, a fundraiser for Soles4Souls and Heaton’s neighbor, recalls that their apartment complex resembled Venice: “no road, no asphalt—only water, curbs, grass and buildings.” All in all, the floods caused an estimated $2 billion in damages, making it the most costly natural disaster in state history. Living up to Tennessee’s nickname, “The Volunteer State,” Nashville neighbors pitched in to move valuables and help push cars out of the water, Elsey says. Her proudest moment, however, was distributing supplies to locals on behalf of Soles4Souls. Despite the continued downpour and rising floodwater that came
within 20 feet of the organization’s headquarters, the charity’s entire team pitched in to hand out seven truckloads of provisions—including 1 million bottles of water, 1,000 high chairs and more than 85,000 pairs of shoes—to people who lost entire homes and businesses. “It was touching to see that even the smallest of gifts could give them comfort and hope that they could return a sense of normalcy to their lives as they started to recover from any damage they might have experienced,” Elsey says. “It was a tragic thing to have occurred in our city, but I am glad Soles4Souls is based here and we could provide such immediate aid to our neighbors, community members and friends.” soles4souls
“IF YOU’RE GOING through hell, keep going”: The famous Winston Churchill quote is a fitting welcome to visitors of Wayne Elsey’s blog on Soles4Souls’ website. As the founder and CEO of Soles4Souls, Elsey is no stranger to persevering in the face of enormous obstacles—from facing harrowing conditions in disaster zones around the globe to working through bureaucratic red tape in order to get shoes to the world’s poor. So perhaps there’s no one better suited to write a book on taking action to make a measurable impact on the planet. After all, since Elsey came on board full-time in 2007, Soles4Souls has grown by 480 percent and is now giving away a pair of shoes every seven seconds. “I wanted to reenergize and motivate folks in every chapter of their life to put the server’s towel over their arm,” Elsey says of his new book, “Almost Isn’t Good Enough: The Human Connection Changes Everything,” which is scheduled for release in December. Using Soles4Souls as an example, the book aims to show that the main ingredient to success is action—and that many nonprofits have become bogged down by focusing on operating the organization rather than doing meaningful charity work. “In the new world of organizational funding and building mission capacity, action requires that we break traditional boundaries when necessary to accomplish the stated goal,” Elsey explains. “Sometimes that means we fail. Sometimes that means we get it right. But the more we get it wrong and fail, the better chance we have at getting it right sooner and more consistently.” But Elsey isn’t aiming only to motivate the nonprofit arena. His book is intended to inspire everyone—from students to religious leaders—to ”do something to improve the world in a positive way.” As Elsey notes, “Whether it’s a small act of kindness to another person or creating an entire enterprise around solving world problems, change doesn’t take place until someone takes action.” soles4souls
WHAT DO YOU do when a long line of celebrities is clamoring to support your cause? When Soles4Souls staffers began brainstorming ways to leverage the organization’s impressive star power, they struck upon the perfect idea: a website where A-listers could compete for donations. So they built www.50000shoes.com, where every 60 days a different celebrity solicits donations from fans with the goal of gathering enough funds to distrubute 50,000 pairs of shoes to people in need. It all began with a hilariously racy video posted on the site by Zach Braff and Donald Faison, who starred in the popular TV comedy “Scrubs.” Braff and Faison encouraged visitors to donate just $5 each, or “the price of a latte.” Soon, other VIPs were stepping up to take on the “Celebrity Charity Challenge,” including singer Lance Bass, comedian Wanda Sykes and football legend Warren Sapp. Spreading word via Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs, stars have used the site to raise more than $100,000 for Soles4Souls—the equivalent of 100,000 pairs of shoes. So which celeb is winning the challenge? Soles4Souls CEO Wayne Elsey says reality star Kim Kardashian and singer Jessica Simpson both raked in impressive donations, although the site’s current sponsor Holly Madison—the star of the Vegas revue “Peepshow” and former Playboy house bunny—is quickly catching up, having solicited enough funds to provide nearly 25,000 pairs so far. Elsey credits the contest’s diverse range of personalities— from comedians to professional athletes to reality stars—for its success in getting a wide slice of the public interested in contributing. “One of the things about our organization is that we don’t judge people,” Elsey says of the more scandalous celebs. “We’re very neutral, very Switzerland. It allows us to reach the world.” 3
I made many friends during my brief but unforgettable stay in Haiti.
Hundreds of Haitians in need lined up and waited patiently to receive shoes.
few days in Haiti can rock you to the core, leaving you with indelible memories. Many of these reflections are troubling, yet others have cemented my faith in the healing power of kindness and the relentless survival instinct that keeps people going in the aftermath of a devastating national disaster. It’s hard to know where to begin when recapping my journey with Soles4Souls. Thinking back on the three-day shoe distribution that took place over Labor Day weekend, there are so many stories to tell. Our
group of volunteers witnessed the destruction firsthand, walking among crumbled buildings and weaving through the squalor of tent cities. We drove from the teeming capital city to remote rural areas, where we first washed the feet of several hundred Haitians— young and old—and then fit them with new shoes. Along the way, we administered countless hugs. Through it all, I repeatedly asked myself, “How will I ever begin to describe my Soles4Souls outreach experience—the utter devastation, the desperation and the staggering poverty I witnessed? And what about the countless smiles, genuine warmth and tremendous pride these beautiful people showed?” Several images have stuck with me in the weeks since we returned,
and I hope sharing them will help describe Haiti’s realities—both the good and the bad—to those who can only imagine what life on the island is like. THE RUBBLE Our five-member volunteer crew drove for hours on a road stretching from heavily populated Port-au-Prince to the isolated countryside, and the amount of rubble on the landscape is staggering considering the earthquake lasted only 38 seconds. Waisthigh mounds of busted cement slabs and long blocks of ankle-deep ruins are all that remain of countless homes and businesses. The debris is heavy and dirty, and there is no hint that it will be cleared any time soon. Nine months after the earthquake, I found this shocking. Excavating the rubble would be a meaningful step toward the nation’s recovery. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a dump truck or bulldozer in sight—just, on occasion, people carrying away the stones with their bare hands. THE TENTS Makeshift housing in the form of tents stretches as far as the eye can see. Several million people live in these “homes,” which often consist of a tarp draped over a few branches or a tin wall. One tent city was located directly across the street from our hotel. A woman invited us inside her cramped living quarters to view her six kids sleeping on one bed. Each of them was wearing a shirt or pants, but none had both. Obviously, this housing arrangement offers little privacy. Bathing is done outside. Once, I witnessed a grown man carefully pouring a bucket of water over his body and it broke my heart. I realized I was unintentionally invading his privacy and quickly looked away. Dignity is a precious possession, and I had to keep reassuring myself that my reason for being in Haiti was to try to help restore at least some of that basic human need through the gift of shoes. THE RESILIENCE Despite many months of devastation and suffering, the human spirit still burns brightly in Haiti. We received many smiles, warm greetings (“bonjour”) and expressions of genuine appreciation (“merci”) throughout our visit. And whether it was filling a bucket with water, washing dishes, sweeping, tending to six kids lying on a single bed, selling bread or hanging out sheets to dry, we witnessed Haitians whose lives had been overturned going about their day with purpose and pride. At one point, a 2-year-old girl wearing nothing but underpants took a liking to me, but while we were playing, her mom pulled her away. Not a minute later,
the little girl returned with a dress on. Her mom didn’t want her to play with her new friend without proper attire. It was small gestures like this that made me a believer—something as simple as a gift of new shoes can go a long way in getting Haitians back on their feet and can help bring a sense of normalcy to their shattered lives. THE SHOES “Shoes are huge,” explained John Chew, our Soles4Souls liaison and the man in charge of the charity’s efforts in Haiti. Shoes are the No. 1 way to protect the local people from disease, he added. Streets filled with raw sewage, filthy puddles and rotting litter drove home that pressing need. Yet during my time in Haiti, I spotted many children and adults walking around barefoot. In some instances, I saw boys wearing girls’ styles and men in flowered sandals with their heels hanging off the back. Even worse, Chew informed me that in Haiti, a child must have shoes in order to attend school. It’s one of the reasons why so many children don’t go to school at all. THE GIVING With gifts of shoes, Soles4Souls donors have helped improve the health, raised the level of dignity and provided hope to more than 1 million Haitians since the earthquake. And having been on the ground with the charity’s staff, I can affirm that those donations are going exactly where the need is greatest. It has been no small feat of logistics distributing Americans’ donated shoes. It all begins with Soles4Souls founder and CEO Wayne Elsey, who is determined to deliver on his organization’s ongoing mission. He has broken through miles of red tape and crossed tremendous physical hurdles to get muchneeded shoes and clothing into Haiti. Elsey has a terrific liaison in Chew, an American who has been living in Haiti for 20 years. Chew has access to vehicles, knows the lay of the land and has many people in his Mountaintop Ministries missionary network (including his three teenage sons) assisting with the distribution of donations. Our group traveled for three hours through crowded market streets, down treacherous hills and along a rocky river valley that wasn’t a road at all. Luckily, an enthusiastic boy who appeared along the way proved instrumental in reaching our final destination, as he repeatedly tested the water’s depth to find the safest crossings. When we finally pulled up to an empty cement building that we were told was operating as a school, there were no people around other than our little river guide and a couple of his buddies. Nevertheless, we unloaded the trucks, organized the shoes for fitting and—20 minutes later—a line as far as the eye could see had formed. I couldn’t believe how patient and well-behaved the children acted—not a single noogie was inflicted and no one cut in line during the hours of waiting. I jumped at the chance to man the kids’ foot-washing station. At the very least, a new pair of shoes warrants clean feet. But the simple act of cleansing went far be-
yond that. I felt overwhelmed by the emotional connection I made through washing and drying each child’s feet and how grateful they all were. I realized then that the giving goes far beyond the shoes themselves. THE COMMITMENT While I traveled through Haiti, my two children and husband were winding down the summer on the beach in New Jersey. I’m happy they had a ball—just as I have had in previous years. This year, however, I felt I was exactly where I belonged. Having been involved in the footwear industry for nearly 15 years and a strong supporter of Soles4Souls since its inception in 2005, I considered it my duty to see the organization’s charitable efforts firsthand. Not only did I want to do my part on a personal level, I wanted to represent the entire industry, which has made a significant difference in the lives of millions of people in need worldwide through its contributions and support. I can proudly say: mission accomplished. Even though I shed a lot of tears during the trip, the positive moments I witnessed far outweighed the sorrow. In fact, the glimmers of hope and happiness are some of my strongest memories. I’m truly grateful for the experience and urge all of you, if you are not already, to become involved with Soles4Souls. And if you have the opportunity, join the charity on the front lines to help make a difference “one pair at a time” in Haiti and elsewhere around the world. •
ATE IN 2009, Soles4Souls’ CEO Wayne Elsey had a “light bulb” moment. He knew from experience that people who volunteer their time to help his charity distribute shoes to the needy around the world are transformed as a result. Learning about different cultures, displaying compassion and being able to share a small gift with the residents of developing nations undeniably turns volunteers into lifetime advocates of the organization. Additionally, Elsey had often heard people say they wished they could be a part of a Soles4Souls overseas distribution. With that, he hatched a plan for an outreach program open to anyone interested in joining the cause. Elsey is not one to let a great idea gather moss. By April 2010, the charity had invited its first group of philanthropic travelers to join the Soles4Souls team on a distribution, and Elsey had hired Katie Lentile to head the fledgling Travel With Us program. “He said, ‘I want you to create a department that allows Soles4Souls volunteers and donors to go around the world and experience giving to those in need,’” Lentile recalls, noting she inherited responsibility for all of the details that went with the title of experiential manager—from budgeting and marketing the trips, to ensuring the shoes get to the distribution sites, to leading excursions to Haiti, Mexico, Honduras and beyond. Soles4Souls encourages all of its donors and fans to sign up, and has hosted everyone from a 16-year-old Girl Scout to executives from major shoe companies that dedicate product to its cause. Lentile says businesses that share details about their employees’ trips with other staffers and customers often experience a halo effect: “Coming back with their own photos and stories from a place like Haiti can be a significant form of cause marketing,” she says. Lentile has worked hard to ensure that participating in a Travel With Us trip is as convenient as possible. The trips all start at a U.S. hub city; once participants arrive there, the charity takes care of the rest. “After we leave the hub, they usually don’t have to spend a dime—even snacks are taken care of,” Lentile adds. Trip fees (which so far have ranged from $1,800 to $3,200, depending on the destination), cover the flight, ground transportation, food, accommodations, travel insurance, visas, the cost of local guides and translators, and a portion of the cost of shipping the shoes to the location—one of the charity’s greatest expenses. Prior to departure, travelers receive background information on the destination, local customs and cultural differences; a packing list; an itinerary; a list of recommended immunizations; and simple phrases to help them communicate with the locals. Prospective participants often voice concerns about safety, says Lentile, but after numerous trips, she believes the chance of any incident occurring is slim. “Obviously, I can’t guarantee that nothing will happen, but we are as safe as possible,” she says, noting Soles4Souls
takes care to partner with aid organizations and contacts that the locals respect, who can lay the groundwork for her volunteer teams. Once the group reaches a distribution site, they set up foot-washing stations, fitting areas and a “back room” stock of shoes, but Lentile aims to keep the events casual. “We try to play with the kids, give them a little toy or stickers, tickle their feet. That makes true connections and brings a smile,” she explains. “The shoes bring hope to these people, but it’s also [the fact] that an American is taking the time to come give them something and actually put them on their feet. It shows how much we’re willing to help.” Similarly, the charity likes to show volunteers that their destination is more than a nation full of poverty and human suffering. Outside of tent villages and city slums, Soles4Souls gives its guests a taste of the host country’s positive attributes via side trips to local markets, beaches or the countryside. Between the physical work of the shoe distributions and immersion into a new culture, the trips often provoke emotional experiences through which the travelers form lasting friendships. “My hope is that they come home and their lives are changed,” Lentile adds. “I hope they’ll always have memories of that one child or that one story and will become ambassadors for Soles4Souls and what we’re trying to do.”
A HUMBLING EXPERIENCE As a catastrophic insurance broker living in Birmingham, AL, Philip Young had encountered the effects of earthquakes on paper but never personally witnessed the aftermath. “I decided to go to Haiti with Soles4Souls because I thought the concept of giving people a new pair of shoes in the wake of a disaster was a great idea,” he says. Young was struck by the poor condition of the footwear many Haitians wore to the distribution center. “Most were torn or didn’t fit,” he recalls. In one case, a teenage boy was wearing shoes roughly four sizes too small. “He was walking on the backs of the shoes with his heels hanging [out]. When I put the first shoe on him and his heel [fit perfectly], his face lit up.” The boy reminded Young of his 17-year-old brother. “That’s when it hit me that these were not random impoverished people living on a remote island; they are someone’s brother or sister, son or daughter. And we weren’t giving something they would like, we were giving them something they really needed. It was humbling to realize that something I take for granted every day could mean so much to someone else.” PUTTING FEARS ASIDE Colleagues and far-flung friends, Ruth Clark—who calls Seattle home—and Nancy Beardsley of St. Charles, IL, had been following the disturbing news coverage of Haiti and discussing what they could do to help. Nancy admitted that she didn’t trust that financial donations would make a difference to the Haitians most in need. When Ruth told her about Soles4Souls’ travel opportunity, Nancy told her friend to sign them up—despite her fears about visiting the devastated nation. Those worries evaporated once they Ruth Clark (above) and reached the island. “I felt very safe,” Nancy Beardsley. Nancy asserts, noting that as the trip progressed, she realized she felt safer in Haiti than she had on some mission trips she’d done inside the States. She believes everyone should visit a thirdworld country. “You begin to understand, to accept, to believe that it only matters that you do what you can do, where you can do it. You return with confidence and empowerment that what you do will be enough. And it is.” Ruth also found joy through the experience of giving. “From the first ‘bonjour,’ I was in love with this country. To be able to witness firsthand what a pair of shoes meant to the people of Haiti was beyond anything that I could have dreamed.” Her memories of the trip include riding the “tap-taps” (Haitian taxi cabs), spending time at the beach, driving through the mountains, and distributing shoes in Haiti’s poorest slum and at an orphanage. “Haiti is a land filled with beautiful people and scenery, and it has forever put a tattoo of love on my heart,” Ruth says. Nancy agrees: “I learned so much. Any time you go out-
side your comfort zone, it promises to change you. [This trip] was a 360º experience providing an opportunity for me to serve, feel good and find hope. The Soles4Souls leadership group wanted us to see and feel Haiti—all of it.” COMMITTING TO THE CAUSE Married couple Ed and Evanne Gargiulo of Greenwich, CT, had wanted to get more involved in charity work for years, but between their demanding jobs and young children, their efforts were limited to attending an occasional benefit or writing a check. “When we read that Soles4Souls allows you to work alongside their staff and volunteers to distribute shoes, and they [pre-arrange] the entire trip... it was the clincher to get my wife and I started helping people in need more directly,” Ed says. The pair chose to visit Haiti because they knew the need there was—and is still—so huge. “Not a day has gone by since we’ve returned that we don’t think about our time there,” Ed says. “Washing the feet of Haitian children, fitting them with new shoes, seeing the appreciation on their faces—we can honestly say our Soles4Souls experience gave us more satisfaction than any contribution check we’ve ever written. To witness hundreds of Haitian children line up within minutes of our arrival, stand in line well-behaved for hours with no guarantees, and expressing extreme gratitude upon receiving a simple pair of shoes… We felt selfish for the joy and satisfaction it gave us in return.” Back at home, Ed notes his family now reconsiders their purchases, first thinking about how many pairs of shoes the money would buy for the Haitian people. “A new iPad could put shoes on an entire Haitian village,” he points out. “This Soles4Souls trip has made us view what we have, what we want and what we need differently. Our priorities have forever been re-ordered and it has fed a desire to do much more.” • PLAN YOUR TRIP Have these stories inspired you to combine world travels and philanthropy? Soles4Souls has a slew of volunteer trips on the calendar for 2011. Unearth your passport and get ready to give! Jan. 5–9: Haiti Jan. 20–30: India Feb. 15–18: Haiti March 7–11: Haiti
March 20–25: Peru April 4–8: Haiti April 10–14: Honduras May 15–18: Haiti
These destinations are on the docket for the second half of the year (dates are yet to be determined): June: Tanzania, Haiti July: Peru, Haiti August: Haiti September: Haiti
October: Mexico, Haiti November: Haiti, Honduras December: Haiti
To sign up, visit www.soles4souls.org/get_involved/travel. For further details, contact Katie Lentile at (866) 521-SHOE or katiel@ giveshoes.org.
THEY SAY HOME is where the heart is, but what if you don’t have a home? What if you’d watched your home crumble to the ground following a devastating earthquake, and the only home that you’ve known since was a makeshift tent? What if you were desperately waiting for aid groups to come to your assistance, but the proverbial red tape has strangled any hope of relief? What if your government was in disarray, hardly functioning or—worse—too corrupt to care? Well, then you would be like millions of Haitians who have been living in extreme poverty since the earthquake of last January, without homes, communi-
ties, and little or no hope. Such was the crisis witnessed by Soles4Souls founder and CEO Wayne Elsey when he first arrived in Haiti last May to deliver shoes and clothing to people in desperate need. Since then, Elsey and his team have been back numerous times to distribute more shoes and clothing. Yet each time, the living conditions he observed on the island remained largely the same: Far too many Haitians still live in the squalor of tent cities, while thousands more in remote areas are completely homeless. “It was very evident upon my first visit that housing is Haiti’s No. 1 need,” Elsey says. “But it’s like the world has discounted that need and believes the tents suffice.” That’s far from the reality, according to Elsey, who describes the conditions as “horrid”: The sprawling tent
Keith Woodley, Soles4Souls’ vice cities are cramped and extremely president of strategic developovercrowded, there’s no running ment, adds, “It all starts by putting water and raw sewage is everya roof over people’s heads so they where. Initially, Elsey got mad: “It’s have safety and stability. In doing unconscionable that nobody is so, we can build the infrastructure building housing for these people. that becomes the foundation of a This needs to change.” But rather Local Haitians at work buidling the first home healthy community.” than wait for other aid groups to in the Soles4Souls village. Building the Soles4Souls vilget involved, Elsey has decided lage is a lengthy and large-scale Soles4Souls will start undertakendeavor—one that Elsey says ing some homebuilding itself. has a much better chance of be“We have donated shoes and we coming a reality if corporations recently launched Clothes4Souls, make much-needed financial but we just can’t turn our backs contributions. “We are asking into the homelessness and the fact terested shoe companies to sponthat people’s lives are in danger,” sor a house for $25,000,” he says. he says. That amount will cover the maThe first step was securing the The cinder block homes will be earthquake-resistant. terials, labor and construction of support of Mountaintop Minisone house. The sponsoring comtries, a local outreach organization pany’s name will be featured on a plaque located on headed by Haitian native John Chew, who graciously the facade of the home. “A house for $25,000 is nothing donated acres of land where Soles4Souls plans to build compared to American standards,” Elsey notes. “Hopehomes. The cinder block structures (designed to be fully, companies will see the value of this effort: providearthquake resistant) will measure approximately 20 by ing families with a new home.” 30 feet and will primarily serve as sleeping quarters for One way to get sponsors to appreciate the value is eight to 15 residents, depending on the number of bunk have them see the homes they’ve built firsthand. Solesbeds and individual rooms built. Elsey says there is room 4Souls plans to invite representatives from sponsoring for 150 to 200 such homes on this land, which is located companies to travel to Haiti to assist in applying the fiin a remote area about a three-hour drive from Haiti’s nal touches to their homes. Once there, the representacapital, Port au Prince. The first home is scheduled to tives can also help distribute donated shoes and clothbe completed this month, and Elsey projects the charity ing. Both Elsey and Woodley believe these trips will will build at least one home per month thereafter. Solespersonalize the involvement, paying huge emotional 4Souls also wants to eventually construct a local school, dividends to the participants. For example, sponsors church, orphanage and soccer field. The latter he hopes may be able to meet the actual family members residwill be funded by an athletic footwear company. ing in the house they funded. And unlike a one-time From the outset, Elsey’s vision was that the “Solesfinancial contribution or donation of shoes, Woodley 4Souls village” be self-sustaining. That goal begins by believes sponsoring a Soles4Souls home offers compahiring Haitians to construct the buildings. “We want to nies an opportunity for ongoing involvement. “It’s not offer a sustainable, long-term strategy where we teach like buying a billboard ad, a TV spot or doing a onethe local population how to build these homes,” he says, time in-store promotion,” he says. “Sponsoring a home adding that it’s an affordable premise. “Families are bais much more substantial. It helps people recover in sically fed on about $1 a day,” he offers. “Well, I’ll hire a devastated area, and the company can be a part of people at a fair wage to build houses if it means they that recovery process.” Woodley sees the potential for can feed their families as a result.” In addition, Elsey companies to develop micro websites that chronicle the plans to introduce micro-enterprising into the village lives of the people living in their home and the suras another means of community sustainability. Thanks rounding community. “This would allow the company’s to Americans who have donated thousands of gently employees to stay connected with the people they iniworn shoes to Soles4Souls, local residents will be able tially set out to help,” he says. to trade footwear for other basic necessities like food, Elsey believes such a grandiose vision is exactly water and housing supplies. “We are putting people in what it will take to get the Soles4Souls village off the business with America’s excess shoes as Haitians trade ground. And once the charity demonstrates that it can them as a means of life,” he explains. be done—to the tune of 20 or 30 homes—Elsey plans In addition to job creation, Elsey anticipates that the to reach out to other aid organizations, like the Clinton village will generate intangible self-sustaining attriGlobal Initiative, for help building additional homes. butes. For example, he believes the construction jobs “There’s no way Soles4Souls can put a big enough dent will motivate the country’s younger generation to plug into the overwhelming need for housing in Haiti, but in and try to make a difference in their communities. we can get a movement started,” Elsey says. “I want to It’s much more than a job, Elsey notes. “I can teach a 20prove that it can be done, while letting others know that year-old that he doesn’t have to live this way. But first much more still needs to be built.” • I have to give him an opportunity to not live that way.”
1. U.S. Soles4Souls recognizes
there are many people in need in its own backyard. Committed to making a significant impact at home, more than 50 percent of the organization’s distributions take place within the United States. Atlanta, Miami, Chicago and Flagstaff, AZ, for example, have all received upwards of 65,000 pairs of shoes via Soles4Souls.
2. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA Raging wild-
fires have ripped through Southern California over the past few years and have enveloped many family homes, leaving residents with virtually nothing. Soles4Souls has sent more than 90,000 pairs of shoes to Orange County, helping provide for victims in the surrounding region.
3. NASHVILLE, TN
When floodwaters from the Cumberland River ruined numerous homes
in Soles4Souls’ hometown in May 2010, the organization sprung to action, distributing not only footwear but also clothing and water to people whose possessions had been lost.
4. BAJA PENINSULA For
five years, Soles4Souls has teamed with shoe industry insiders to distribute product in this region of Mexico. This fall, footwear executives, reps and retailers brought full size runs from brands like Clarks, New Balance and Hi-Tec, fitting 2,500 individuals into new shoes in just five hours.
Already the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere (and fifth poorest in the world), Haiti’s conditions exponentially worsened after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake ripped through the island on Jan. 12, 2010. Soles4Souls immediately responded by sending shoes and clothing to the island, and it plans to
make monthly visits in 2011 with a goal of providing 1.3 million pairs and ongoing aid to the Haitian people.
6. CARIBBEAN RIM
Along with Haiti, the 29 countries located in the Caribbean Sea—most of which have populations living in extreme poverty—are frequent recipients of Soles4Souls’ donated goods, due to sheer need and the charity’s partnerships with other organizations that have an ongoing presence in the area.
7. TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS The capital of
Honduras has become a significant distribution point for Soles4Souls, as the charity tries to make an impact in a region where rampant poverty and high unemployment is the norm.
8. PERU After several significant earthquakes shook this nation
in the spring of 2010, Soles4Souls sent more than 30,000 pairs of work boots to provide locals with safe and sturdy footwear to aid the clean-up and recovery process.
9. AFRICA The World Bank defines “extreme poverty” as living on less than $1 (U.S.) per day. It is estimated that one billion people worldwide fall into that category, with the greatest concentration living in Africa. Soles4Souls is addressing this need through established distribution points in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Nairobi, Kenya; and Lome, Togo. 10. ROMANIA & UKRAINE Cities where cold
weather can occur six months out of the year are high-priority recipients of boots and sturdy, waterproof shoes donated to Soles4Souls. In countries such as Romania and Ukraine, much of this product is distributed at the
city level through local orphanages, schools and clinics.
11. U.A.E. Soles4Souls looks
beyond the obvious places to find people across the globe it can outfit in new shoes and clothing. Even in wealthy nations, such as the United Arab Emirates, there are people struggling to make ends meet who are thankful for the gift of shoes.
12. PAKISTAN Soles4Souls has had a long-standing presence in Pakistan and thus could quickly respond to the massive flooding this summer as well as an earthquake that rocked the nation in September. The charity often funnels footwear companies’ leftover, mismatched shoes to Pakistan, where locals help pair up “near mates” and rework them to create wearable pairs.
13. MYANMAR Thanks to a
generous donation directly from footwear brands’ factories and international distribution centers, Soles4Souls was able to ship 50,000 pairs to Myanmar to assist citizens rebuilding after Cyclone Nargis crashed ashore in May 2008. The worst natural disaster in the country’s recorded history, the tropical storm caused at least 138,000 fatalities and $10 billion in damage.
Through a network of partners that stretches around the globe, Soles4Souls is helping people in need of new footwear even in countries as remote as this one.
15. INDIA, FIJI
Expanding its reach further across the globe, Soles4Souls has plans to distribute shoes in India and Fiji in 2011, among other sites.