17-years old, Nick Lowinger is a junior in high school. He lives in RI, and runs his 501(c)(3) charity, the Gotta Have Sole Foundation out of his family’s garage.
Meet Teen ‘Trep: Nick Lowinger
I got the idea to start Gotta Have Sole Foundation because of an early volunteer experience I had at a local homeless shelter. My mother took me to volunteer with her when I was 5-years old so I could see what some members of my community were going through. She wanted me to develop empathy and and also to appreciate all that I had. I met barefoot children, others who shared footwear with a family member and missed school, sports and social activities, and some children who were bullied by their peers because of the condition of their footwear. They also had lacked confidence and had low self-esteem.
I could not sit idly by and started donating my gently used clothing and footwear, but the shoes were never the right fit since they were molded to my feet and were not the size the kids needed. I vowed to someday raise money to get them the new footwear they needed.
In 2010 as I was preparing for a religious coming of age ceremony that included a community service project, I was finally able to realize my dream. Giving homeless children new, properly fitting footwear to call their own was something I had wanted to do for years and decided to open it as a business so I could continue doing so throughout my lifetime. My parents explained to me about nonprofit and helped me register it, finally receiving the 501(c)(3) number the first day of 7th grade!
I went to religious organizations, schools and businesses to ask them to hold new she drives and to contribute monetarily, and after establishing relationships with shelters in RI, I was able to give new footwear to over 400 children in RI’s homeless shelters in my first year. As my family and I traveled for awards and vacations, I expanded my program into other states, bringing the footwear with me and delivering them in-person. I contacted corporations, footwear manufacturers and private donors for monetary and footwear donations and in the past 5 years, I have raised over $500,000 in monetary and in-kind donations.
To date, with the help of over 2,700 volunteers, mostly youth, I have donated new footwear to over 24,500 homeless children in 35 states within the US. My goal is to expand Gotta Have Sole into all 50 states, helping as many homeless children as I can by the time I graduate high school in 2016. There are 7 Gotta Have Sole clubs in 5 states right now with many more on the way, run by youth leaders who not only fundraising and donating footwear to children in their local homeless shelters, but also coordinate after school athletic and social programs for the children. The clubs are designed to teach people about the true face of homelessness today and to help bridge the gap between homeless and non-homeless youth around our country.
What is your one business tip for teens?
My business tips for teens are to trust your ideas and not be afraid to act on them, even if you face obstacles. Ask for help from other entrepreneurs and get a good team of people to support you. This presents a great opportunity to learn the fundamentals of business. Engaging community and corporate support, not only will allow you to improve your communication skills but will also help you get valuable recommendations and suggestions.
What is the best part of being an entrepreneur?
The best part of being an entrepreneur is getting to make managerial decisions that best support your own idea for running your own enterprise.