At 17, Nicholas Lowinger is already an established CEO. But his company is not a run-of-the-mill organization. Lowinger is the founder of the Gotta Have Sole Foundation, which provides children living in shelters with new footwear.
“I was 5 when I started visiting homeless shelters with my mom. I was really excited to show the kids my new light-up sneakers,” the Rhode Island native told Business Innovation Factory last year. “But my mom cautioned me not to show them off, she said some kids there didn’t even have their own shoes.”
At the shelters, Lowinger saw kids with blisters and sores on their feet because of ill-fitting or no footwear. So when Lowinger had to select a community service project as part of his bar mitzvah, he already knew what he wanted to do: provide shelter kids with footwear.
After his bar mitzvah, he decided to continue his efforts and established the Gotta Have Sole Foundation. His synagogue, Temple Sinai in Crantson, Rhode Island, was the first to donate a pair of shoes.
In the years that followed, he recruited over a thousand volunteers and donors across the country. He has provided over 6,000 pairs of shoes with the help of companies like Zappos, Timberland and Hasbro.
In November 2014 he won a Nickelodeon HALO award and this year he is one of two World of Children Youth Award honorees.
“But,” Lowinger says, “the way children feel when they receive their new shoes is much more important to me than any award I’ve received.”