NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Jones Paideia Elementary in Nashville is the zoned school for homeless shelters like the Nashville Rescue Mission, so it’s not unusual for children from the shelters to have challenges with their shoes.
“Number one, there has to be safety, and when shoes are too small or shoes are too big, that’s a threat for our children,” shared Assistant Principal Khalimah Jackson, Ed.D. “And two, it’s a fitting-in thing. We, in this world that we live in now, it’s about brands and looking a certain way, and we don’t want our children to stand out because they don’t have a certain type of shoe or a certain name of shoe.”
A few years ago, nonprofit Soles4Souls learned there were more than 5,100 homeless children in Middle Tennessee. The majority in Nashville are served by Metro Nashville Public Schools’ (MNPS) Homeless Education Resource Office (HERO).
“One of the stories that just really hit home for us was a story of a young lady who literally showed up at the office wearing a flip flop on one foot and a cowboy boot on the other,” explained Tiffany Turner, vice president of outreach for Soles4Souls. “And, you know, sometimes that one, that one story brings it all home, and we began to explore what we could do in our backyard, and then we learned what that looked like nationwide.”
According to Jami Oakley, who develops community projects for the HERO program, “If a student doesn’t have their school uniform and a good pair of shoes to wear, then that’s just one more barrier that may end up keeping them home an extra day.”
“We know shoes, that’s our world,” Turner stated. “How can we help these kids? And that’s how 4EveryKid was started. The first program rolled out in the fall of 2022, 15 school districts.”
Soles4Souls’ 4EveryKid program now fills the shelves of the HERO program’s office at the old Buena Vista Elementary School with all types and sizes of popular new sneakers.
“You will see boxes of Vans, boxes of Adidas, of Reebok,” Turner said.
The nonprofit provides enough shoes that children can get the exact pair they want.
“It’s a joyful piece of support for both that child who is getting the new shoes, and that parent who no longer has to worry that, oh, their child has grown over the summer, their child has lost their shoes in transition, maybe they’ve landed in a domestic violence shelter in the middle of the night, or they’ve had an apartment fire, and having this piece of the puzzle always taken care of is just beautiful,” Oakley described.
A team of 75 people behind the scenes at Soles4Souls makes this happen and more.
“For every pair of shoes, you get two pairs of socks, and we have an amazing partnership with Bombas. They provide us with amazing socks,” explained Turner.
The 4EveryKid sneakers and Bombas socks provided does more than just cover kids’ feet.
“It just levels the playing field for our students,” Jackson said.
Advocates for MNPS students see the changes new sneakers make.
“I think, most definitely, it’s a confidence booster… The difference it just makes on just their attitude and just their behavior, it just puts a positive on them,” stated Tiffany Rhodes, the MNPS Community Achieves site manager.
Helping find the perfect pair for a child is more than just a joy for those at Soles4Souls.
“When I opened the box, his countenance shifted immediately, like the look on his face. He brightened up, he smiled, and then they were perfect, they fit perfectly, and his dad pulled me aside and said, ‘Thank you for the way you treated my son,'” Turner recalled. “We make sure that the children we’re serving feel celebrated, and we try to create a dignifying experience for them, because that’s just as important as the resources we provide.”
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“In Davidson County alone, by the end of this year, we will have served almost 10,000 children through our partnership with H.E.R.O, and then we also have an amazing partnership in Rutherford County,” she continued. “We’ve worked in Williamson County, and Sumner and Maury County. We’ve also worked in Cheatham County, as well. They’re one of our other counties and we’re expanding our work. Right now, a donation of $20 really helps us move a pair to a child in need.”
“Soles4Souls is such a hero to our program because they’re there for us, we know that they’re there for our kids, and it’s something that we can count on,” Oakley said.
“Soles4Souls gives children a chance to be whoever they want to be,” stated Jackson.
“We’re just so grateful for having them as an awesome partner and just making this difference in our children’s lives,” added Rhodes.
So, we honor Soles4Souls as our News 2 Gives Back Hometown Hero for September, presented by Nashville Subaru, for helping provide shoes to the more than 5,100 Middle Tennessee children who are experiencing homelessness.
If you’d like to donate to Soles4Souls to support the 4EveryKid program, click here.
News 2 Gives Back Hometown Hero is presented by Nashville Subaru.