In today’s social media-influenced culture, students are sometimes bullied for wearing the “wrong” pair of shoes.
Others want to participate in sports, but can’t afford the proper athletic footwear.
Two local college students have started a charity through which they hope to help kids like these.
Nickolas M. Levin, 19, an Elizabethtown College student who started his own sneaker resale business when he was in high school, is executive director and president of Kix for Kids.
The charity, launched last month, seeks to raise money to buy and give away sneakers to kids who need them.
James W. Duncan, 20, of Millersville, is head of public and social policy for Kix for Kids.
“Our goal for 2018 is to give away 500 pairs of sneakers, and we have a $20,000 (fundraising) goal” toward making that happen, Duncan says.
They’ve raised about $2,000 so far, Levin says.
“ ‘Dress for success’ has become a very big thing, especially for students today,” says Duncan, a student at HACC’s Lancaster campus who plans to study communications and mass media.
“Every time you walk into school, you want to feel like you’re going to be successful,” he says. “You don’t want to have that worry of a student making fun of you.
“In reality,” Duncan says, “kids are being made fun of and getting bullied for not having the right sneakers because of the way social media has influenced our young children.”
Twenty years ago, Duncan and Levin say, you might have gotten picked on for your clothing choices at school, but could leave that behind when you went home.
Now, the two college sophomores say, someone can take a kid’s picture and post it on social media, so the bullying follows the child home.
“We’re big advocates for education for our youth,” Duncan says. If bullying is causing a student to have low self-esteem, “how well do you think you’re going to do in school?”
“In addition, I see there’s a disparity between those who have and those who have not in Lancaster County,” says Levin, who is studying business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship at Elizabethtown College.
“We’ve looked at some pretty sobering statistics about (the number of) kids who have free or reduced (priced) lunches in Lancaster County.” he says. “We see that to be an issue.”
There are struggling single parents and parents with disabilities, Levin says, and households without stable parents.
If Kix for Kids can give free sneakers to students whose families cannot afford them, Levin says, the parents will have extra money to buy food and other essentials.
Levin says he and Duncan have filed the paperwork for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status through the Internal Revenue Service. Duncan says they expect to earn that status in eight to 10 months.
Kix for Kids is an offshoot of Nick’s Kicks, a business Levin started when he was a 16-year-old student at Garden Spot High School.
Levin was a sneakerhead in high school, and he turned his passion into a moneymaking enterprise.
He buys new and pre-owned batches of popular models of brand-name sneakers that are no longer being sold in retail stores — such as Air Jordans and Yeezys (Kanye West’s sneaker brand) and then resells them for a profit.
Once the sneakers are no longer available in retail, he explains, “they go into a secondary market, which is the reselling. So, a $200 sneaker I now sell for $1,200. ... It’s a very niche market. It’s a lot like collecting cars or coins.”
He sells, both domestically and internationally, via a website. He does a lot of business in Japan, he notes, and is minoring in Japanese language at Elizabethtown College.
“The entrepreneurial spirit is something that I really love,” Levin says, “and it’s been passed down through my family.”
His father, Steven Levin — a member of the Kix for Kids advisory board — owns businesses, including Goodville Notary, in Lancaster.
Levin says that, because he has developed so many connections with businesses that sell sneakers, he can buy them in bulk at a reasonable price.
He had already given sneakers away to kids who needed them, which gave him the idea to use his business connections to run a nonprofit.
Met on set
Last year, Levin hired a media company run by a fellow college student to shoot a commercial for his sneaker business.
Duncan was taking still photos on the set of that shoot.
Levin says he saw Duncan not only as someone who could handle communications for the nonprofit, but, more importantly, someone he could trust.
Duncan thinks the two may actually have met years earlier. Both played basketball in middle school, and suspect their teams played against each other.
An injury halted Duncan’s basketball career before high school, though he was a student coach while attending Lancaster Mennonite High school. Levin played the sport at Garden Spot.
Duncan says he has been reaching out to other local nonprofits through which Kix for Kids might identify young people who need sneakers, and could help distribute them.
The two men hope to organize basketball tournaments as fundraisers for the nonprofit, and, eventually, to sponsor an Amateur Athletic Union basketball team.
Kix for Kids has already given away one pair of sneakers, to a local student who needed them to play basketball and couldn’t afford them, Levin says.
“It was a very powerful feeling,” he adds.
With both men being full-time students, and each having other jobs — Duncan works at Mod Pizza — they’re devoting about 10 to 12 hours a week to the nonprofit.
“We both have had instances in our lives where we’ve been in a spot where it’s not so great,” Duncan says. “And we know what it’s like to have a community surround us.
“And if we can ... give back to the community,” he says, “and build something and stand on some ground that’s helpful to somebody, that’s our goal.”