Let us share the story of the two women who are running the show here at Ruben's Shoes Society. I'm Desirée, I'm the one on the left and the one who writes most of our content. Kelly, the little blonde one on the right is our Founder and the two of us have been best friends for 25 years going on strong now. We both grew up in Aldergrove, BC - which in case you don't know is a very, very small town about 60 kms east of Vancouver (about an hour's drive). Our families still live out in the Valley and actually my parents still live in the same house I grew up in. Kelly and I first became friends in grade 8 through a mutual friend, Melissa, who was Kelly’s very best friend; they were like little twins who lived across the street from each other and were the same height (most likely under 5' tall) and did everything together. Melissa and I shared some classes together so we all became friends. Melissa fought depression for a very long time and in the summer going into Grade 11 she took her own life. I remember the call from Kelly. It changed our lives forever.
A year earlier, Kelly had lost her other childhood best friend Nicky in a drinking driving car accident, to say she had been through a lot is a understatement. For a young girl at 15yrs old to have lost both of her best friends was unimaginable. The blessing became the strength of love that bonded us together. A few years later at the age of 19 we were in a terrible car accident that changed the course of Kelly’s life forever and put her in physical rehabilitation from the age of 19-25, losing her dream of becoming a nurse and leaving her with an immense struggle to find purpose in her life.
In 2005, Kelly made a casual trip to the mall which unbeknownst to her would be a momentous event in her life.
During that routine trip to the mall, Kelly committed to becoming the sponsor of 3 year old boy through World Vision; his name was Ruben. For 7 years, Kelly received updates and pictures of Ruben which were always displayed on her fridge and over that time Ruben became a boy that we both had a lot of love for. In 2012, Kelly planned a trip to go on vacation with her mom, they choose the Dominican Republic with hopes that she could potentially meet Ruben. Leading up to that trip, things were very hard. After the car accident, Kelly had struggled to find meaning and purpose in her life and was she was not in a very good place.
Kelly will openly tell you that Ruben saved her. When she returned home from that trip in 2012, she arrived back home a new person. The light that had been so dim for so many years was alive and bright again. I could see life in her eyes and a passion that had been ignited. Kelly had been touched deeply by Ruben, his entire family and all of the beautiful people in the Dominican Republic who she had spent time getting to know. She realized that although their situations were dramatically different, they as people were no different than her. She thought this most significantly about Ruben. As a 10 year old boy, how different his life was compared to a 10 year old boy living in Canada. She realized profoundly that he was no different; but that the only difference was in the country he was born and in the opportunities that were lacking.
Saddened by the poverty she saw and inspired by love, Kelly wanted to do something to help but was not sure what to do or where to start. The one image that stuck out in her mind was all of the children in Ruben's village running around bare-foot without any shoes. Kelly had learnt while spending the day with Ruben that in the DR and many other countries around the world, if children don't have shoes, they can't attend school. This seemed like such a terrible barrier to be able to access education and an easy problem to help fix.
When Kelly came to me with her idea to start collecting gently used shoes and help children in the Dominican go to school, I couldn't say no. She was so proud "I'm going to call it Ruben's Shoes" she said. From all that she had been through and seeing the fight she had endured for her life, I had no choice but to support the project which was bringing her back to life again, giving her purpose, and that she was so undeniably passionate about. I had a feeling it would be something big but neither of us could have predicted how big her little project would become. Sure enough, her townhouse in Port Moody, BC had become a shoe factory with friends and their kids coming over to help us sort and pack all of the thousands of pairs of shoes into boxes. Within 6 months we had collected over 12,000 pairs of shoes and sent a full container to the Dominican. What started as a small idea to help some children access education has now grown into a full blown international NGO. We have given over 80,000 pairs of shoes in the Dominican, Mexico, India, Canada, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Zimbabwe. There are many things that happened along the way for all of the pieces to fall into place and we are so grateful for them all. We have now moved beyond collecting shoes and are investing in projects that deliver education directly such as our Education Sponsorship Program which started with one girl and now has over 160 students and sponsors, along with the build of our new Secondary School down the road from the Elementary School we are fully funding.
Kelly and I are grateful for all of the support we have received from our community and will continue to do whatever we can to be a voice for children who don't have one; with our dream of ending global poverty through education.
Since I’m writing this, I would like to add that Kelly has given purpose and meaning to my life for which I will be forever grateful. By supporting our mission, you are also supporting a dream, a friendship, a cause bigger than you and I, and the belief that even through the darkest times there can always be a light at the end of the tunnel and that true blessing can come from deep tragedy
A big, big thank you to Ian Beaulieu for hosting a lifestyle photography session with us and for capturing these special images. @isbphoto https://www.isbphotog.com/