The volunteer work that Dwight students are doing to make a difference in the lives of homeless New Yorkers captured the attention of legendary journalist Marvin Scott at WPIX Channel 11!
Ross Brodsky ’21 and Alex Goldenberg ’21, co-founders of Sole Purpose, which collects, refurbishes, and distributes sneakers for men, women, and children who are homeless, were featured on last night’s 10 pm news. They shared the inspiration for Sole Purpose and how Dwight’s Spark Tank helped them turn it from an idea into a reality.
Last year, when Ross saw a YouTube video in which a jogger took off his sneakers, gave them to a homeless man without shoes, and ran home barefoot, he thought about the sneakers in the back of his closet and what he could do with them. Ross teamed up with Alex Goldenberg ’21 and Sole Purpose was born. They presented their concept to the judges in Spark Tank, Dwight’s incubator, to nurture student entrepreneurial, leadership, and innovation skills, and advanced through the development cycle to launch last spring with an innovation grant from The Dwight School Foundation. Alex says, “Spark Tank allowed us to combine our love for sneakers with our passion to help those in need. Thanks to the funding received from the Foundation, our idea quickly became a reality.”
Last spring, the duo also submitted Sole Purpose to Dwight’s Spark Tank Service Challenge, “Innovation for the Greater Good,” an initiative the Foundation launched, together with our CAS and Spark Tank programs, to support student service during the pandemic. Ross and Alex received a service challenge grant as well, further boosting their social entrepreneurial efforts.
Very quickly, with the addition of fellow seniors Fernando Castellanos, Lexi Colodne, Alex Rich, and Marlowe Clarke, the Sole Purpose team began collecting new and gently worn sneakers, sanitizing them, and distributing them in “Purpose Packs” to the Bowery Mission, Covenant House, Bronx Works, Care for the Homeless, and Volunteers of America – Greater New York. They also extended the team beyond Dwight with the addition of Eric Viloria, a student at the Bronx Studio School for Artists and Writers.
It was in Tompkins Square Park this summer where the impact of what the students were doing was seen and felt immediately. They planned, with the help of New York City’s Police Department, a sneaker give-away event called “Taking It to the Streets” on August 22. After flyers went up and the word went out, there was a line of people waiting for sneakers. Within an hour, the team gave away over 125 Purpose Packs, which brought many smiles and a wealth of gratitude from recipients. “This is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life,” Ross shares, “I’ve never helped this many people and seen what it’s done for them.”
The impact that a pair of clean socks and sneakers can have is both immediate and dramatic. For someone who is homeless, sneakers not only add protection from the environment and help to prevent foot-related medical conditions, they also can go a long way in enhancing self-confidence and self-esteem. “I never would have thought that within almost an hour of our Sole Purpose shoe event, we could single-handedly change over 125 different peoples’ lives,” Alex says. “It was an amazing and humbling experience.”
See “Taking It to the Streets” in action:
On the Sole Purpose website, students boldly declare, “We envision a future in which every homeless person in New York City has a good pair of sneakers and socks to help them take the next step forward in their lives.”
Their vision is becoming a reality.
- Spark Tank