Every child deserves to have at least one pair of shoes they’re proud to wear, but for many kids, that’s simply not possible.
As a teacher at Justin F. Kimball High School, which is located in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, Jesse Acosta knows this all too well. Most of his students are from low-income households, so they often end up wearing shoes that are falling apart.
“My very first year as a teacher at Kimball, I had a student that when he would walk, his sole would just come apart from the rest of the shoe,” Jesse said. “The only part that was still glued was the front of it, right by the toe area.”
To make matters worse, sneaker culture (people who connect over their love of stylish shoes) is huge at the school. This was the case even when Jesse was a student. Although expressing oneself through sneakers is fun and harmless, sometimes those who are unable to participate end up getting bullied.
Although Jesse was aware of this problem, he knew it would take a lot to find a solution. That’s why, as soon as school closed in 2020 because of the pandemic, he spent time devising a plan. He even had the perfect partner to help him: his girlfriend, Alejandra Zendejas. As a math tutor and “sneaker nerd,” as she calls herself, he couldn’t have asked for better help.
At first, they planned to give away shoes to students based on classroom performance, but that didn’t feel right. What they wanted instead was to find a way to get shoes into the hands (and on the feet) of kids who are financially disadvantaged. So, with the help of social media and Jesse’s coworkers, they began searching for those students by connecting with schools across Dallas.
Now, with the help of these schools, Jesse and Alejandra are able to identify students who need better shoes before they organize shoe drives! Since getting started, they have officially become a nonprofit called Pasos for Oak Cliff. The Spanish word “pasos” means “steps,” making it the perfect nod to the founders’ Mexican heritage.
“Not everybody can afford to be part of that sneaker culture. That’s not the students fault. That’s just a situation they are currently living,” Jesse said. “We try to help other students who are economically disadvantaged right now because their parents maybe lost a job to COVID or because they have come from a low-income household.”
To find the best shoes they can, Jesse and Alejandra shop at places like Nike with a budget of $30 per shoe. It’s not easy, but these two spend the time that’s needed to hunt down outlet stores that often have huge discounts. Sometimes, they’re even able to find resales of high-end brands.
At first, they bought these shoes with their own money. Now that their nonprofit has garnered so much attention, they’re able to purchase shoes through donations and a grant from Amazon, which allowed them to expand beyond Dallas and into other cities like Austin and San Antonio. They’re also planning on giving away $10,000 in college scholarships to Oak Cliff students.
Best of all, they’re still expanding! Jesse and Alejandra are looking into a building of their own so they’ll have more storage space for shoes. Plus, the extra room will help them branch out in the ways they’re able to help their community and give them space to host educational programs.
“We’re just doing things and approaching the inequity gap a little differently from other nonprofits,” Jesse said. “We’re borrowing from and being influenced by the community that we live in, especially since we both love shoes. It’s worked out so far and we’re definitely blessed for that.”
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