The #Shoeathon, as told by Ascencia


In this touching guest blog, Natalie Profant Komuro, the executive director of homeless programme Ascencia retells her experience of the great Virgin #Shoeathon...

Take an old metaphor, a new(ish) medium for communication, mix it up with an abundance of good will and generosity and, voila!, #Shoeathon!

It has been over a week and I still get a kick thinking about the remarkable journey of Sir Richard Bransons shoes to Ascencias Winter Shelter program. And, as much I would love to run the shoe puns throughout this post, I will spare you.

Ascencia, a nonprofit organization, runs several programs throughout the year. They include street outreach, an Access Center where homeless people can go for help and a 40 bed emergency shelter for families and single adults. We also move homeless people with disabilities into housing and provide ongoing services to help them stay housed. Every Christmas, a number of supporters generously adopt Ascencias homeless families, make sure they all have gifts, and throw wonderful holiday parties.

The winter shelter program was new for us this year. It is a challenging program, requiring nightly set up of cots in the National Guard Armory, a facility not intended to be a shelter, serving anyone sane enough or sober enough to stand in line. We dont subject clients to drug tests or do background checks, so there is quite a bit of uncertainty in managing the program. It can also be depressing. The program participants tell us they like it better than in years past. Meaning they have been homeless for years.

Knowing this new program lacked a holiday tradition, Mark Horvathtook it upon himself to recruit new donors and volunteers to spread some holiday cheer to the 80 shelter guests. Joining forces with the Social Media Club LA, he lined up dinner from Mimis, a local restaurant, socks from Hanes and SMCLA members put together gift bags for all the shelter guests.

As our luck would have it, Shannons adventure with Richard Bransons shoes coincided with Marks efforts to brighten the winter shelters Christmas. On Christmas Eve the Social Media club volunteers arrived with Shannon in those big red sneakers and handed out the gifts. It was cute, made for some good laughs and then we all went on with our lives, which eventually meant getting the flu and other various illnesses that are going around.

Several weeks passed and while deep in the throes of a congested haze, I saw an email about a blog post and a Twitter hashtag, and WHAT??!!! RICHARD BRANSON IS TWEETING ABOUT ASCENCIA?!!!

And there it was, a steady stream of #Shoeathon tweets from around the world. It was incredible. People we have never met, who may never even come to Glendale, took a moment to show their support.

Those who work in homeless services tend to be as anonymous and invisible as the people they serve. Yet they show up every day, committed to do the best for their clients. To know that complete strangers would enthusiastically endorse us truly warmed our hearts. And we are tremendously grateful for the funding as these last few years have been very tight.

A little more than a year ago, we changed our name. We chose Ascencia because we felt it conveyed the sense of hope and optimism we want for our clients. We are delighted to share our story in the hopes that more people can see the good that comes helping people out of homelessness. Perhaps some of those who tweeted #Shoeathon might also reach out to the helpers in their own community.

I am deeply appreciative to Sir Richard Branson and the team at Virgin Unite & Virgin Mobile USA for calling attention to this work and for the opportunity to share a little more about what we do. And I particularly want to thank to Shannon, Mark and the Social Media Club LA for inspiring this extraordinary course of events.

Natalie Profant Komuro, Executive Director, Ascencia

For more information on the work of Ascencia, and to find out how you can contribute to their efforts head over to the Ascencia homepage.

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