May 20, 2024
Sole Mates

Photo: 4EveryKid

Rita Case and K'Dynn Green share an affinity for stylish accessories.

Editor's Page

Sole Mates

Vickie Chachere | 9/1/2023

Trailblazing entrepreneur Rita Case is recognized for many things: As a teenager working at her parents’ auto dealership, the first in the nation to carry Hondas, she sold the first of the now ubiquitous cars. Along with husband, Rick, the couple built one of the nation’s largest and most successful automotive dealership empires. She’s won many awards and national and international honors; and of course, there are her trademark hats — she’s never seen without one.

But lately, the big accomplishment she’s intensely proud of can fit in a shoebox and isn’t designed to last very long. Any parent who has an active, growing child knows exactly what I mean: There is no object in their lives more fleeting than their shoes — unless what’s attached to them is Case’s intense devotion to community.

She is the driving force behind the 4EveryKid initiative in Broward County, which is providing 5,000 pairs of shoes for homeless children to start the school year. “There is support for clothes, school supplies, hygiene products but not shoes,” Case says. “Shoes are a key component to physically feeling comfortable, pain-free, active and happy.”

Florida Department of Education studies have found that students without secure housing performed less well than children with settled living arrangements on all academic measures, had greater absenteeism rates and are more likely to drop out of high school. Homeless children face hurdles that can’t be fixed by a new pair of sneakers, but for struggling families facing an unrelenting housing crisis, it’s one less worry and that’s priceless.

The shoes are provided in partnership with Soles4Souls of Nashville and are name-brand sneakers that not only meet a physical need, but an emotional one. Parents report their children are more confident and motivated for school in their new shoes. The group is working to expand the program to other Florida school districts; statewide about 78,000 children live in shelters, motels or temporary shared housing, according to state education figures.

In Broward, the shoes — along with school uniforms, backpacks, school supplies and toiletries purchased by the Homeless Education Assistance Resource Team through grants and contributions — are distributed to students in all grades experiencing homelessness. The ability of Broward schools to help provide shoes had been an elusive goal until Case stepped up. “We want students focused on educational success and feeling good about themselves,” she says. “These kids face enough challenges in their lives, without worrying about ‘fitting in’ with their classmates.”

There are few people more tenaciously focused than Case once she sets her sights on a goal. Determined since day one, her parents (her mother was the first woman to road race Honda motorcycles in the 1960s) founded a successful dealership in Northern California. As soon as she turned 16, she obtained her pilot’s license and soloed in her father’s single-engine Cessna. She was already making her mark in the automotive world when she met Rick Case, and together they became an automotive and community force. The Cases became involved with Soles4Souls in 2013 and provided coats and shoes to children at Boys & Girls Clubs. The cause remained a passion project for the company even after cancer took Rick in 2020 at 77.

The list of community programs and philanthropies supported by Case Automotive is long, but 4EveryKid clearly holds a special place in Rita Case’s heart. If you are a parent, you know that even at a young age, kids are keenly aware of whose families can provide things like new sneakers. And ask any professional woman out there, clothing is a subtle armor in a world that’s all too quick to decide in just a glance who measures up and belongs and who doesn’t.

Case has gone about building the effort with the same strategy she built the business. “I decided instead of trying to raise (money) every year which is time-consuming and makes it difficult to plan the program strategically, I would ask for a five-year commitment from the donors I presented to,” she says. “This way I could really plan for success.” The initiative’s annual budget is about $125,000; she’s raised enough commitments to secure donations for the next five years. Soles4Souls says that’s enough to provide 6,250 pairs of shoes.

Earlier this year in an auditorium at Mary M. Bethune Elementary School in Hollywood, boxes of Adidas, New Balance and Ralph Lauren Polo sneakers were stacked high on tables and scores of volunteers and Case Automotive team members helped the children pick out a new pair of shoes. Case sat on a metal folding chair and slipped a red sneaker onto the squirming foot of a little boy.

The mother of two and grandmother of three smiled: between his growing feet and summer fun, the shoes won’t last but a few months. But for a child living through the uncertainty of homelessness, a moment rooted in a neighbor’s kindness and caring might just be forever.

Find me on Twitter, @VickieCFLTrend, and LinkedIn.

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