Monday, September 21, 2009

Sole mates: Student inspired by S4S creates nonprofit to collect, distribute shoes to Vietnamese orphans

Santa Catalina's Paulina Nguyen inspired by 2007 trip to Vietnam.

Paulina Nguyen's first trip to Vietnam in 2007 was intended as a chance to meet distant relatives and get a foothold on her family roots.

A visit to a Vietnamese orphanage changed that, especially when she saw children walking around barefoot.

She knew she had to do something.

Nguyen, a 17-year-old senior at Santa Catalina School, promptly started Soles4Orphans, her personal effort to collect and distribute shoes to Vietnamese orphans. This year, she has collected $3,400, which will be used to purchase sandals and shoes for her family's trip to Vietnam in December.

"I really had a connection with the kids there. When I saw some of them were barefoot, it stayed with me," she said. "I wanted to do something to help, but I didn't know exactly what."

Administrators at Santa Catalina School said they were impressed with Nguyen's initiative.

"It's a wonderful example of how students look beyond themselves and out into the world," said Richard Patterson, assistant head of school for advancement.

The idea for Soles4Orphans was inspired by Soles4Souls, a national nonprofit founded by former footwear executive Wayne Elsey.

When Nguyen saw a Soles4Souls shoe bin at a local shoe store seeking donations, she was reminded of the Vietnamese orphans who walked with calloused feet everywhere they went.

She began collecting shoes in late 2007, and by the time she was ready for her trip in June 2008, she had collected 500 pairs of shoes, along with in-kind donations.

The money she collected was used to buy an additional 200 pairs of sandals upon her arrival in Vietnam.

Paulina showed up with boxes of shoes and sandals, and sizing mats with shoe sizes drawn on them. Children measured their feet, received a pair and rejoiced. Some were just excited at the prospect of the shoe measurement, having never known what size they were.

This year's trip will happen around the winter holiday break. She plans on taking shoes that have been donated, including some 40 pairs that were sent in by an Indiana mother who heard about her organization. The donor had recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of her own adoption of a young child and wanted to mark the occasion with a donation.

Nguyen gave special thanks to Elsey and Soles4Souls, which she mentions on her Web site as an inspiration. Elsey has encouraged her effort, Nguyen said.

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