14-Year-Old Provides Shoes for 800 Children

08/03/2011 03:23 pm ET | Updated Oct 03, 2011

At an age when most kids are more concerned with their social lives than social change, Nick Lowinger decided to take a different path. Nick started a nonprofit organization that provides new shoes to children living in homeless shelters. In the past year and a half, his organization has supported more than 800 kids in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. His efforts have already made an important impact within the local community, and they are growing fast -- not a bad start for a 14-year-old.

Nick's journey as a philanthropist started a few years ago, when he was visiting a homeless shelter with his mother. While interacting with the children staying at the shelter, Nick recognized that many of them lacked simple, everyday necessities -- like shoes. Most of the kids he met had shoes that were torn or falling apart, while others walked around completely barefoot. Many, he was told, missed school because they had to share their footwear with a family member.

Nick made a personal commitment to donate the footwear he had outgrown to the shelter. As he outgrew more shoes, he began making deliveries on a regular basis. Each time he visited, the children's excitement increased his desire to make a lasting contribution. So, after years of donating his own items, Nick decided to expand his efforts and make a more significant impact. He came up with a community service project while preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, collecting new shoes from his friends and family and delivering them to kids living in the shelters. That project would be the inspiration for a new nonprofit organization. In February 2010, with the help of his family, Nick founded the Gotta Have Sole Foundation to provide new shoes to children living in homeless shelters throughout the East Coast.

Gotta Have Sole's model is simple: the organization approaches shoe importers and retailers nationwide for donated boots, shoes and sneakers, which are then passed on to local children. These businesses have responded enthusiastically to Nick's work, and the grassroots effort has managed to attract a large base of individual footwear donors, as well. Gotta Have Sole's momentum is growing fast, and soon Nick will be launching new fundraising campaigns and expanding his program to shelters in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

People like Nick -- both young and old -- represent the thousands of CLASSY Awards nominees who have dedicated their lives to solving social issues. When we started the CLASSY Awards, our goal was to recognize the philanthropists who don't always make newspaper headlines but are nevertheless changing lives in our local communities and around the world.

The CLASSY Awards have quietly become one of the largest philanthropic awards ceremonies in the country, bringing together the giving community to recognize the most outstanding charitable achievements by nonprofit organizations, businesses and individuals like Nick nationwide. The success of the CLASSY Awards since its inception three years ago has put a national spotlight on these amazing people and organizations, giving them the recognition they deserve but don't always receive. AOL News said it best: "Hollywood has Oscar, Broadway has Tony and now philanthropy has CLASSY."

The CLASSY Awards Ceremony is an inspiring experience filled with powerful stories of compassion and overcoming adversity. As audience members listen to the captivating achievements, a consistent theme emerges: even the largest philanthropic movements start with ordinary people simply trying their best to make a difference. Attendees leave with a renewed sense of their own power to effect change. As CLASSY Award Winner Josh Warren from the DREAM Program stated, "We can leave here tonight, share our stories and challenge everyone else to turn apathy into action and complacency into compassion." Each achievement serves as a potent reminder that big changes start with small changes -- small changes like donating a pair of shoes.