One student used just those words in a thank you note. “These shoes are my life,” another child wrote.
Cline grew up in a low-income home, raised by a single mom who worked more than 60 hours a week to support the family. He was bullied as a fourth and fifth grader, so much so that he chose to walk the two miles to school instead of riding the bus. Receiving his first pair of Nike shoes just before sixth grade changed his life, boosting both his confidence and his self-esteem.
“A pair of shoes really made a difference, looking back on it,” said Cline, 28, who grew up in Fairborn and now lives in Miamisburg.
With Just a Pair of Shoes, he wants others to experience that same gift. He began distributing free shoes in 2016, incorporated the organization two years later and has so far given away more than 1,000 pairs in schools in Fairborn, Huber Heights, Riverside, Northridge and elsewhere.
The group also held an event last year for residents of YWCA Dayton’s shelter. They generally get items from a donation room when they arrive, but shoes can be a struggle, said Kaitlin Schroeder, the YWCA’s marketing and communications manager.
“He really treated our clients with dignity and made it about them. It was really moving,” she said.
Cline spoke of his own experiences and passed out name-brand shoes. About 75 people received new shoes that August day, from toddlers to high schoolers and their families.
“It’s normal to want something nice that’s your own, and he understood that,” said Schroeder, who nominated Cline as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem.
Cline, who had stayed at a homeless shelter in Xenia where he is now a board member, said it is meaningful “to be on the other side of the fence” and credits the impact that his teachers, coaches and mentors have had on his life.
“The least I can do is give back,” he said.
The organization is completely volunteer-run, with all donations going directly toward shoes and socks. Cline also owns a business selling shoes online, which gives a portion of every sale to the nonprofit. He also uses the buying power of the business to find better deals for Just a Pair of Shoes, he said.
The day of a giveaway is an exciting experience for the kids, almost like recess, he said. Shoes are often the first thing that a child really owns, Cline said, and students are asked their favorite colors before the day arrives. No matter the name of the organization, it is ultimately about much more than a pair of shoes.
“Shoes are a way to express your personality and your identity, ultimately,” he said.