Ohio State student Nicole Lee discovered something last year to enhance a lifelong devotion to service and better yet, change a child’s life: a pair of shoes.
When Lee fell in love with a woman’s pair in her Chicago neighborhood last year, she also fell in love with TOMS. The organization recently accepted Lee for a summer internship at its headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif.
According to its website, TOMS is an organization founded in May 2006 that provides a pair of shoes to a child in need with every pair purchased.
After acceptance as a campus representative for OSU, Lee spread the mission of TOMS to friends who became OSU group members. Last September, the university approved the TOMS group as an official organization with an adviser.
“You always want to start something with friends that are just as passionate about social issues,” said Lee, president of TOMS at OSU and a fourth-year in special education with a focus on early childhood intervention.
She and nine other representatives recently planned and participated in a barefoot walk on April 8 along with 250,000 others worldwide, Lee said.
Not only does Lee take off her shoes for the cause, but she devotes time to delegating roles within the organization, communicating with the student body and serving as the main face in conference calls with TOMS’ headquarters in California every other week.
“I think I speak for everyone in the club when I say how much we appreciate how hard Nicole works,” said Andrew MacMillan, a fourth-year in psychology. “She is stretched really thin with all of her other organizations, and 98 percent of the time you wouldn’t know it.”
Lee’s dedication to TOMS is also noticed by the national organization. She successfully competed against thousands to acquire the alternative sales intern position, one of 14 summer internships TOMS offers in California.
She said she is confident in her team’s ability to contribute to the TOMS campaign during its stay.
“Young people can definitely make an impact in this world,” Lee said.
Although TOMS is a new endeavor, Lee’s true passion lies in becoming a teacher and caring for children with physical and mental disabilities. She stresses the importance of helping to create a generation that is passionate, self-supportive and able to make a difference.
“It just shows the power of one. I’m one individual with the potential to change someone’s life,” said Lee, grinning from ear to ear.
Lee plans to travel and teach abroad during the summer following graduation before finding a permanent teaching job in the public school district in her hometown of Chicago. She said she hopes to continue finding new organizations to volunteer with in the evenings and weekends while working full-time.
Lee’s confidence in making a difference is grounded in reality.
“Often people are bold and want to save the whole world, but you have to be realistic. I do what I can do in the moment, but nothing can happen immediately,” Lee said.
In fifth grade, Lee acted in the moment on a school bus when she punched a boy for making fun of her sister with a learning disability. Her personal insight into the life of a disabled child provides the encouragement necessary to pursue her career.
Lee said her older sister, Meagan, a second-year at Harrington Design School in Chicago, is her role model.
“My sister is just so talented, would give the clothes off her back, and was so mature about the situation. She inspires me to keep going with everything,” said Lee, holding back tears.
Inspiration also comes from her classes, service experiences and placement in different schools every quarter to work with children in need.
The children might change, but her passion to make a difference is constant.
“She’s really genuine in what she wants to do and just has this nature to help other people out,” said Lee’s younger sister, a first-year in pre-physical therapy at the University of Illinois.
Lee said because she is able to understand other people’s needs, she is sure that no matter what she does in the future, her life will always focus on others.
“I don’t care if after I’m gone I’m forgotten,” Lee said, “but making a difference in a child’s life is the legacy I want to leave.”