At 17 years old, Olivia Wright is a founder and CEO, has collected and distributed 90,000 pairs of shoes, and is currently in the process of opening an orphanage in India. WOW. We had the amazing opportunity to talk to Wright and learn about her organization and her inspiring work.
What is Tennessee HUGS? What is your mission?
Olivia Wright: H.U.G.S is a not-for-profit organization I founded at the age of nine, and now, at 17, I’m CEO of. The H.U.G.S (Help Us Give Shoes) mission statement is to give shoes and smiles to people all over; our goal is to shoe the world!
We live in a place where shoes are a necessity, without shoes many children are denied the ability to go to school, have the possibility of dangerous penetration in their feet, and are susceptible to many life affecting diseases, bacteria, and parasites. By giving children and adults shoes, we are not only keeping them safe, but we’re also showing them that they are loved and that someone somewhere cares about them enough to help provide them of a need.
What inspired you to start Tennessee HUGS?
OW: I was watching a Feed The Children commercial, and I realized that these children didn’t have any shoes. I knew that it was up to me to change that. I talked to my parents about it, and after some convincing, they were super supportive! We had our first shoe drive at my church, collecting 650 pairs of shoes, and I went to the Appalachian Mountains and donated them myself.
When seeing the people with such a great need so close to where I live, I knew that that was where I was supposed to be. I then did everything I could do to learn more about these people, and made it my mission to provide those in need with shoes.
How much progress have you made since you first began collecting shoes?
OW: H.U.G.S has been blessed since our start, thanks to so many swell people and mentors who believe in our mission and work tirelessly to help us collect shoes!
Since the establishment of H.U.G.S, we have collected and distributed 90,000 pairs of shoes. H.U.G.S has distributed shoes to places such as, but not limited to, Russia, Nicaragua, India, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and disaster relief all over the world! H.U.G.S is also very passionate about making sure to shoe many places in the United States of America. I personally try to go on as many local shoeing trips as I can.
What are your future goals?
OW: H.U.G.S has a long-term goal of a shoe drive in every state in the U.S, and a short-term goal of 100,000 pairs of shoes by April 2016. When I was nine, I felt called to start an orphanage through H.U.G.S, but I didn’t know when; I just knew I needed to.
My little brother was adopted when we were both younger, and adoption has always been very close to my heart. Months ago, I felt the call and knew it was time. I was blessed with the right contacts and right places, and am now ready to start the “H.U.G.S Forthward Home” in Rajahmundry, India. Thanks to an amazing Indian pastor we are working with, Pastor Koti, we already have the building and know of four young children our orphanage will be housing. So that is also a short-term goal, funding H.U.G.S Forthward Home!
What do you do to help yourself stay positive when you get discouraged?
OW: It can be a struggle sometimes to stay positive. In fact, a lot of my H.U.G.S testimony is colored with how I recovered from discouragement to see the bigger picture. And that’s my advice: Look towards the bigger picture. A big part of success is failure. I think it’s important to look at that as a way to learn. I know it’s unfortunate at the time, but in the end, it’s failure that makes success that much more sweet, and sadness that makes happiness that much more beautiful.
Another way I deal with discouragement is by meditating and getting myself to think straight, calm down, and put things in perspective. Also, I have to focus on not beating myself up for feeling discouraged. I try to take care of myself and maybe even treat myself. I try to pray about my discouragement and ask for encouragement.
Sometimes, I will let myself take a moment and heal from the stress, drink some hot tea, read, and take a nap. In those cases, it’s the stress I put on myself that ends up in discouragement. When I can think straight and feel swell the world looks a lot prettier.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to make a difference?
OW: I think the number one advice I can give is to be passionate. Find what you think needs to be changed, what tugs at your heartstrings, and change it! Peace is possible, but it is up to us to make it a reality. I want you to know that you are capable of things, amazing, extraordinary, and powerful things!
You and I currently live in a world of endless possibilities, with hard work and determination we can unlock those possibilities and create an amazing outcome. Remember to have hope, faith, and love. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and believe in yourself. Also utilize social media, the media, and google. That’s my quick tidbit on how you can make a difference!
How can others get involved in your organization?
We are only 10,000 pairs of shoes away from our April goal, and have a lot of shoe drop offs scheduled for soon, so it would be super appreciated if you could clean out your closet and donate your new or gently used shoes! Isn’t it cool that one trip to your closet can change someone’s life?
H.U.G.S is soon going to start fundraising for the H.U.G.S Forthward Home in India, and is constantly in the need of donations to keep everything running. If you are interested at all in donating, email me personally at email@example.com and I would love to talk.
Check out our website and contact us if you would like to help out in any way!