Wayne Elsey, Founder and former CEO – Soles4Souls, Inc, Founder and Head Coach Elsey Enterprises

Wayne Elsey, Founder/Head Coach Elsey Enterprises

Wayne Elsey grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, and always felt compassion for other people. Wayne’s brother Timmy, who was killed tragically in 1986, was an enormous influence on his life. “My brother had a huge impact on me and taught me to have a soft heart,” Elsey said. “He would do anything for anyone – he was just trying to make a difference in the world.”

In late 1989, Wayne co-authored a self-published book that was printed and given away to people for help during tough situations. “It’s All Up to You” was given to thousands of people across the country (and not for income purposes), but in an effort to help people focus on waking up, getting up and making a difference in the world with a good attitude.

Wayne has worked in the footwear industry since he was 15. He started by helping out on the floor and stockroom of a retailer and worked his way up to serve as President and CEOs of several footwear companies in the United States. Still, Wayne felt his life’s potential was not being fully realized. He wanted to help people with more than providing a great product.

It was at this time that the Asian Tsunami struck in December 2004. While he was watching news coverage of the disaster, he was extremely moved by the image of a solitary shoe washing up on the beach. He orchestrated a nationwide shoe drive with a few friends and it netted over a quarter million pairs being routed to Southeast Asia. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast region, Wayne quickly organized the same team and launched KatrinaShoes.org.

“The outpouring was phenomenal for this effort and we received over 3/4 million pairs for the disaster,” Elsey said. “I was standing in a field with cows and many people getting shoes in Mississippi. I could not believe the reaction and the devastation that these folks went through. At that time, I thought, ‘Why not do a formal, 501(c)(3) for the world to donate new and used shoes and let footwear (my heritage) to make a huge difference in people’s lives?’ I went back thought through it, made a few calls to the folks who helped with the previous shoe drives and asked what they thought. Hoping they would say I was crazy, they said ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ Six months later we launched Soles4Souls, Inc. – a non-profit corporation based in Alabama. We secured a building, offices, truck, more inventory and a team of people that are driving the Soles4Souls enterprise.”

Since that day, Elsey watched as the charity continued to rapidly expand. “I was working full-time as President of another company while I was also trying to give advice to the Soles4Souls team and realized I had to make a choice,” Elsey said. “I couldn’t do both, and that’s when I realized that the pure joy of working with Soles4Souls – a simple mission to give away free footwear to needy people – was more more gratifying than selling a million pair of shoes for profit.”

Elsey came to work with Soles4Souls full-time in April 2007. “This has been a whirlwind for all of us,” Elsey said of the charity’s growth. “We have given away more than 2.6 million pairs of shoes since we began this thing, and that translates to one pair every 28 seconds. We are adding staff members every other month just to keep up!”

Elsey and his team have appeared on hundreds of news outlets around the country in 2007 as the word of the charity’s work gets out to the public. “It’s really NOT about us – we want to return the focus of all this media attention to the people who are reading the stories,” Elsey said. “We want to inspire them; we want them to say ‘Hey, wait a minute – I can do something like that with my own resources.’ At the very least, they could send us the shoes that are cluttering up their closet, because we know there are about 300 million children alone who could really use them.”

Elsey resigned in early 2012 to start Elsey Enterprises which is now a premier marketing, branding and fundraising company with its suite of brands.

You can email Wayne at wayne@wayneelsey.com.