Archive for the ‘ Why Soles4Souls? ’ Category

Human Nature will Never Fail to Surprise

PEACE: Sign in Fremont, Seattle, WA

And That's What It's All About

And That’s What It’s All About

Most obvious statement of the decade? The economy sucks.

We have all been affected by it in some way — whether we’ve lost job(s), taken pay cuts, or dealt with the stress of a pink slip hanging over your head as you watched your co-workers clean out their desks one-by-one.

But in the midst of all of our hard financial woes, something still burns inside of each of us. We have witnessed it many times. Easiest and most obvious example to relate to? 9/11. If only for a few hours, we all stood together. And I don’t mean in the patriotic sense. Sure we all heard the anthems, saw the flag until it no longer held meaning, and were saddened every time we lost a friend, brother, or community member who volunteered to ‘fight for freedom’, but the entire world screeched to a halt for a second. Any human with an ounce of a conscience stopped and reflected. Strangers smiled at each other and struck up conversations. Estranged parents and children picked up phones. Some people sat solitary, quietly mourning the atrocity of pure evil that was simply too difficult to even begin to comprehend. But one thing unified us all that day, if even for a brief subconscious moment. We all felt vulnerable, helpless, and inconsolable. We all wanted to do something to help.

9/11 is an extreme example that affected the entire world and changed the course of history, but we all experience things in our lives that have similar effects. We get a phone call. A father has cancer and suddenly we feel guilty for getting angry that we [insert trivial daily life episode here].

During Hurricane Katrina most of us had those same feelings. How could so many lives be lost on American soil? Where was FEMA? Why didn’t the government offer more protection? Our safe American cocoons that took so long to spin again in a post 9/11 society suddenly started to unravel.We slowed down again. Maybe this time we were a bit more numb and used to such large-scale heartbreak. Some gave blood, emptied closets to fill bag after bag of clothes for the victims, while others gave money. Some simply sat and had quiet moments of reflection in honor of the victims, while others swapped vacations in Europe to go to New Orleans and help rebuild. But one thing rang true once again — the majority of us wanted to do something to help.

Wayne Elsey, founder of Soles4Souls, Inc. had these same feelings, first after the tsunami struck Southeast Asia and next when he sat and watched the tragedy of Katrina unfold before his eyes. Although he had helped coordinate about a quarter of a million shoes be delivered to the victims of the tsunami, he felt compelled to keep helping those who faced such sudden tragedy. Through the help of some colleagues and the support of many, Wayne has helped send over a million pairs of shoes to the victims of Katrina. Seeing the impact of the efforts, Wayne started Soles4Souls, Inc. a year later. It has been growing stronger ever since.

When I decided to sign up to travel to Costa Rica with Soles4Souls, I did what I usually do when it comes to matters of the heart. I didn’t think twice. As I actually started to try to raise funds, while juggling my complicated work-fueled life, I became worried. How the hell I would get enough people to hand me money in a time of widespread financial crisis? There were factors working both for and against me. As an Art Director, I worked with teams of brilliant problem solvers at places like Microsoft and Razorfish. I had soaked up enough information about social strategy and using digital media for good. I knew I could apply those skills to help raise awareness and drive donations. I had (and still have) to put in a great deal of my money for things like the initial trip deposit, domestic RT air fare to Miami, as well as lodging, etc. I opened a second savings account early on and made sure I put aside enough weekly to at least cover payment milestones should donations not cut it. I figured I could buy some time at very least.

Then my life rapidly began to change. I went through two layoffs and began dealing with a series of unexplained illnesses. Over the span of three months, I went to 30 medical appointments. My symptoms ranged from debilitating fatigue and intense all-over pain to daily migraines and flu-like symptoms. After being tossed from specialist to specialist and eradicating scary diagnoses one-by-one (MS, lupus, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer again…), my docs finally settled on Fibromyalgia. Although skeptical, I swallowed the diagnosis and began treating the symptoms of this mysterious illness with vitamins, supplements, and a complete overhaul of lifestyle and diet. No more late nights. No more having “a couple of beers” to watch the game. No more dairy. No more gluten. And the worse part? All of my money and energy went to treating this disease so I could continue to live as normal of a life as possible. These changes were a hard pill to swallow for a woman whom, just six months earlier, was at the top of her game in digi-mobile-touch-dev-design media space. Hop a red-eye to Atlanta for a brainstorming session? Right. I was too tired to get up and drive down the street for gas.

This happened over the course of six months or so. I was doing okay, until recently I started feeling unbearably ill. Told it was the flu and I was going through a Fibro flare, I decided to finally listen to my gut and demand a Lyme test. I had acute Lyme once, while living in Massachusetts at the age of 25. My body has never been the same since. I went through shorter episodes of similar symptoms that I am having now. They are all the telltale symptoms of Chronic Lyme Disease, a much more serious disease that most of the medical community refuses to acknowledge as real. More on all this in what is sure to evolve as a new blog, Why did you become a doctor if you don’t want to help people?

My tests have come back positive. I am waiting for next steps, which are almost impossible to get as most doctors will not treat chronic Lyme due to its controversial nature.

So why bring this all up? We all suffer in some way or another. However, through it all, you came through. You not only came through for me, but for a small population of children in Costa Rica who suffer daily in ways unimaginable to any of us. Every time you made a donation, it warmed my heart and gave me the incentives I needed to push on. Amongst the generous donations of my close friends, there were donations from people I have never met, some that I haven’t seen since fourth grade, and some that I haven’t even heard from since high school.

Despite all the hardships we have experienced, you came through. And I cannot begin to explain to you what that means to me. Every time I place a new pair of shoes on the foot of a child, you will all be there in spirit. Know you made a difference. Know that you may have saved a life.

I am humbled and wish peace and good karma to you all.

More to follow soon…

Jamie Lynn Despres

To make a donation via PayPal to help defray my personal costs and/or to purchase additional goodies for the children, please click this button:


Special Guest Entry: Katie Lentile talks about Haiti


Katie and her "little buddy Job" in Haiti.

Katie Lentile is a busy woman. With all of the responsibilities that come with being the Soles4Souls Experiential Manager, Katie still manages to keep in constant communication with volunteers, show gratitude and respect by responding quickly to e-mails and messages, all while juggling plane tickets, organizing trips, setting up the logistics of international distributions, and keeping a personal blog of her journeys. I managed to catch up with Katie quickly via e-mail today as she prepares for back to back trips with Soles4Souls. Here is an excerpt from Katie’s personal blog posted March 19, 2011. Thanks for letting me share your story Katie! I look forward to meeting you in Costa Rica.

Thoughts from Haiti

When I stepped off the plane in Haiti last May I was excited, nervous and a little scared. It had been 5 months since the earthquake and I was anxious to witness first-hand how these people were living and surviving. It is hard for me to put into words my thoughts as we arrived in the airport and then drove down the road past miles and miles of tent cities. I have seen poverty before in developing nations, poverty actually worse than Haiti, but there was a difference in understanding what this country had to overcome.

Since last May I have been to Haiti 6 times. I often am asked about my personal opinion in regards to the progression and recovery from the earthquake. Before my trip last week I had not been in Haiti since October. Last summer and fall I did back to back trips each month and definitely witnessed progression, but never had a long enough time span without visiting to realize how much it truly had changed.

Anyone who has been on one of the Soles4Souls trips will tell you that Haitians are remarkably resilient. As I stepped off the plane last week and drove through the streets, I thought about my very first trip last May. As we drove down streets people were in tents outside of their houses (regardless if they had been destroyed or still standing). They were fighting for survival and a sense of panic lingered in the air. At that time I remember thinking how impressed I was with their ability to move forward despite the loss of family members, friends, houses, jobs, schools, and in their eyes their own government. They had hope.

Last week there were still tents cities on every corner and rubble for miles. However, compared to the first trip, these people are no longer living in fear. Most everyone is still fighting for survival, but they are out and about in the streets, rebuilding their houses, and together are working to rebuild their nation.

Soles4Souls partners with HOM and our team stays at their compound in PAP. Last week as I led a team of 5 (smallest group ever) we spent time together each night on the rooftop eating dinner, playing games, and becoming great friends. Every single night the choir from the church spent hours singing and praising in worship. For me personally as a Christian, I was in awe of their faith. God never promises us that life is going to be easy or that horrible tragedies will not occur, but He did give us His Son, who suffered and died for all of us–so that we can trust in Him during the good and bad.

Soles4Souls is an organization that is open to all religions, beliefs, etc. When working in developing nations most partnering organizations that are on ground are religious organizations. As we have all learned the 2 things never to discuss in groups (esp. with people you just met and have to live with them for a week) are: religion and politics. The last thing I would ever want is for someone to feel uncomfortable or not welcome during one of our trips. Our partnering organizations fully understand that we have volunteers from all walks of life and are extremely respectful and welcoming. It is my job to make sure the trip participants are respectful to each other – which has only proven to be a bit tricky a time or two…because obviously people have strong opinions. I am writing about all of this to brag on my last group. There were 5 women and I am 100% certain would have never met under any other circumstances. Leaf is a Unitarian Universal Pastor from New Hampshire-studied at Harvard Divinity school, Erin is in pharm. sales – lives in New Jersey with her husband and their pet birds (and is an exceptional photographer), Lynne is married with two kids – attorney from L.A., Sari-lives in NYC-from South America-studied shoe design and could possibly like Gossip Girl just as much as me, Jeanne, a returnee from my August trip that lives in Illinois and helped us with the distribution as she was visiting her boyfriend who is working in Haiti, and myself-born and raised in the south and thankfully have been able to experience other cultures enough to build my own personal thoughts, opinions, and beliefs – while learning and being respectful of others. This team obviously included some strong personalities and opinions, but I was so impressed as everyone shared, learned and respected each other, but more importantly respected the Haitians for their resilience, hope and faith.

As I woke up Friday morning (when the roosters started crowing at 2:00am) I checked my phone and read about the earthquake in Japan. During high school I had the opportunity to travel to Japan for a cultural exchange program. I immediately emailed my host family and friends to make sure they were okay and to see how we could help (I heard back yesterday and they are all okay – and sent shoes to them through a connection that is sending aid via air on Monday.) Like most people, devastation and loss has a way of hitting me hard and consuming my thoughts. My prayer is that the Japanese people are able to have hope and faith just as the Haitians. I am encouraged by the Haitians and their faith, just as I am encouraged by each individual who steps out of their own personal comfort zone and has a desire to help others.

I am heading out in the morning for PERU!! So have no fear, there will be lots of posts this week. I’ll even take the flip cam!

Oh yea – pictures from this trip were posted on the Soles4Souls Facebook page!


Katie Lentile

What is a Soles4Souls Shoe Distribution?

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