By: Tyler Lehmann
She didn’t know it was supposed to be the last day Wayne Elsey came to school. All she saw was a student who needed a little cheering up.
“Wayne, I know life takes its toll,” Mrs. Bush said as she pulled the eleventh-grader aside, “but I see something in you that tells me that you’re going to be a huge blessing to many people someday. So remember that, OK?”
Because of Mrs. Bush, Elsey decided not to end his life after all, and he returned to school the next day. He graduated the following year and began selling shoes for his uncle.
Elsey’s problems weren’t over though. He did well at the job, but working with family was harder than it seemed. It wasn’t long before Elsey’s uncle fired him.
But as they say, when one door closes, another one opens. Elsey began working for a children’s footwear company, soon becoming its youngest vice president ever.
For the next 20 years, Elsey enjoyed a very successful career in the footwear industry. He retired at age 40.
However, even with Elsey’s incredible success, Mrs. Bush’s vision had yet to be realized.
In 2004, while following TV news coverage of the Indian Ocean tsunami, Elsey watched a single shoe wash up onshore.
Moved by the image, Elsey contacted footwear industry leaders and collected over 250,000 pairs of new shoes to donate to those affected by the disaster. The next year when Hurricane Katrina struck, he collected nearly one million pairs.
Impacted by the experiences, Elsey came out of retirement and founded the nonprofit charity Soles4Souls, which has responded with crisis relief aid to more than 40 natural disasters worldwide and distributed more than 17 million pairs of shoes across 127 countries.
In 2010, Elsey was named the Philanthropist of the Year at the Footwear Achievement Awards for his charity work with Soles4Souls.
To honor the charity’s accomplishments, Elsey hosted a celebration with many business and government dignitaries in attendance. The guest of honor, however, was none other than Mrs. Bush, the woman who had made it all possible with one simple act of kindness.
The story of Wayne Elsey and Mrs. Bush testifies that there are no lost causes in God’s eyes, and what’s more, he may use even a small gesture to make a massive impact.
Read more about Elsey’s experiences in his book Almost Isn’t Good Enough.