February 27, 2017
A pair of shoes can change your life. Just ask Dawn Staley, head coach of the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team. No stranger to adversity, the three-time Olympic gold medalist and University of Virginia graduate honed her athletic abilities on the basketball courts of North Philadelphia, in an environment where—she is fond of saying—“I didn’t care about how I looked from the ankles up, as long as the ankles down looked really good.” Love of great footwear, and a belief in the self-confidence and determination that a new pair of shoes can inspire in their owner, are the animating principles behind Coach Staley’s nonprofit INNERSOLE. Co-founded in 2013 with organization vice president Rene McCall Flint, INNERSOLE has donated over 7,500 shoes to underprivileged children in South Carolina, partnering with low performing schools and encouraging young people to take responsibility for their education.
“INNERSOLE uses sneakers as an incentive for the students to do well in school,” Director of Operations Angela O’Neal says of Educate My Sole, the nonprofit’s core initiative. “We challenge students to compete in five areas: reading, academics, attendance, character, and physical fitness.” The spirit of healthy competition that ensues among students at participating schools is “contagious,” Angela says, spreading from classroom to classroom and instilling the same values of discipline and determination Coach Staley discovered lacing up for the basketball courts of North Philadelphia so many years ago. “Our goal is to instill self-esteem,” Angela says. “We’re not always going to be there for these kids. We’re not always going to be able to provide them with new shoes. But what we are able to do is lay a foundation for them, to help build the skills they need to be successful.”
Major corporations like Nike and Under Armour are following INNERSOLE’s lead, signing on as sponsors to support the neediest students in South Carolina. Community leaders are taking note as well. A recent partnership with Governor Nikki Haley’s Original Six Foundation has allowed INNERSOLE to extend its reach significantly, donating shoes to second graders and classroom supplies to teachers in schools from Allendale county to Union county and beyond. “The young people that we’re reaching now are going to be our workforce in ten years,” Angela says. “We need to go in and teach teamwork, and to inspire kids to come to school ready to learn, so we can make our state great.”
Support from Central CarolinaCommunity Foundation—where INNERSOLE is a fund holder—is instrumental in fulfilling this mission, Angela says. By taking administrative burdens off of their shoulders, the Community Foundation allows Angela, Rene, and Coach Staley to devote their time to what she calls “the good work.” “We’re able to focus all of our efforts on filling the requests for the shoes,” she says. What’s more, the Community Foundation serves as an enduring source of guidance as INNERSOLE seeks to deepen its impact here in the Palmetto State. “It’s been a blessing to have the Foundation on our side,” Angela says. “South Carolina has been very good to us, and we want to continue to be very good to South Carolina.”