NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Soles4Souls has often trekked to developing countries to hand out free shoes as part of its mission to "wear out poverty." Still one nation, less than one hundred miles away, remained out of reach.
“If somebody would've come to us four years ago and said we wanted to go to Cuba, it's like we're not your partner for that because there was so much unknown,” Soles4Souls President and CEO Buddy Teaster said.
However this has been a new day.
“When David Williams first called us and said we want to go to Cuba we were like, ‘Hey that's a great idea.’ We hung up the phone and were like, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do?’ Teaster said.
For the third year Vanderbilt University has partnered with Soles4Souls to take student athletes on international mission trips. This year Cuba was the destination of choice.
“We usually go to a school or orphanage,” Teaster explained. “We size the kids, wash their feet, put shoes on them and they get to spend a little time playing with them.”
This trip gave the ten student athletes and administrators a front row seat to history on Monday as the United States officially restored diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than 50 years.
“I think it's an amazing opportunity for them,” Vanderbilt student Kendall Shaw said. “And honestly I wish I was on that trip with them.”
Shaw has played on the women's basketball team and has been interning with Soles4Souls.
“Right now you may not think about it,” she said, “but later on when you have your own family you can be like I was there when the Embassy was opened.”
For Vanderbilt and Soles4Souls the timing was a mere coincidence. It’s a visit that gave the purpose of their trip even more meaning.
Previous destinations included Costa Rica and Tanzania.