Personality: Robin Watson Telfian
Spotlight on founder of local nonprofit Shood (Shoes for Good)
1/28/2021, 6 p.m.
A casual soup kitchen conversation led 50-year-old Robin Watson Telfian to start a non-profit .
The Kentucky native was volunteering at the Red Door RVA Soup Kitchen in February 2017, when a discussion with one of the patrons, David, over his worn out shoes and his desire to replace them sparked a novel solution to a clear issue.
“Typically, avid runners retire their shoes between 300 to 500 miles and go through three pairs of shoes annually, while on average, people who live in poverty walk 10 to 15 miles per day,” Ms. Telfian explains. “Although retired running shoes are not good for running additional races, these shoes have many miles left to give to someone whose main source of transportation is walking.”
It led Ms. Telfian to start Shood – pronounced “shoed”— a.k.a. Shoes for Good in June 2017. During the last 31⁄2 years since, the nonprofit has supplied more than 6,000 pairs of new and gently used running shoes to the poor or homeless in Richmond.
Shood’s work is enabled in large part by runners who donate their shoes, which are collected at Fleet Feet stores in Richmond. A team of Shoods volunteers thoroughly cleans, sanitizes and refurbishes the running shoes, “transforming them to look brand new,” Ms. Telfian says.
The shoes then are distributed at Shood Shares, monthly shoe giveaways set up at five different soup kitchens, churches and food pantries throughout the city. Guests’ feet are sized and they’re guided through the selection of new shoes by volunteers, leaving with new footwear, along with socks and foot care items.
“Most of our Shood Share guests walk many miles a day to work, appointments and outreach services across Richmond. Running shoes are safe, functional and comfortable,” Ms. Telfian says, explaining why running shoes are Shood’s footwear of choice to give out. “Our hope is that our shoes will help make an immediate impact on health and wellness, while helping individuals step forward in dignity.”
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shood has adjusted its operations. Instead of its mini-stores, it has been work- ing through various organi- zations, such as Moments of Hope, Blessing Warriors, St. Joseph’s Villa, Boys and Girls Clubs, Caring Clothes Closet and others to continue its work safely.
Early last year, Shood delivered 400 pairs of running shoes to front line nurses and physicians at VCU Health System, and in November, gave 600 pairs of shoes to be shared at The Giving Heart’s Annual Community Thanksgiving Feast at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
“Thanks to (the partner organizations), donated shoes are getting on the feet of those who need them most,” Ms. Telfian says.
The nonprofit has learned other lessons as well, chiefly the need to be mobile.
“We want to raise money to take Shood on the road,” Ms. Telfian says. “A mobile Shood Store would give us the flexibility to distribute shoes anywhere, anytime.”
Shood also has some new initiatives in the works. The organization plans to partner with Richmond Public Schools through its Shooding Stars Program that would provide running shoes and track spikes to track and cross country student-athletes at Richmond high schools.
“Shood wants our local student-athletes to step on the starting line and focus on what they do have — talent,” Ms. Telfian says. “Shood believes every student-athlete deserves to show up feeling their best, and that fair competition, not better resources, should determine the winner.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Telfian says Shood eagerly awaits the time when it can again set up its mini-stores and get shoes on the people who need them most.
“We hope to get back to our monthly Shood Shares in 2021,” Ms. Telfian says. “Until then, we will continue to look for ways to serve our community.”
Meet the creative founder of an avenue to help community members and this week’s Personality, Robin Watson Telfian:
No. 1 volunteer position: Founder, Shood (Shoes for Good).
Date and place of birth: Sept. 2 in Madisonville, Ky.
Education: Bachelor’s in advertising, Western Kentucky University, and master’s from Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter.
Family: Husband, Brad, and two sons, Oregon, 13, and Louden, 10.
Shood is: A local nonprofit that has distributed more than 6,000 pairs of shoes to the community during the last 31⁄2 years. Shood collects men’s and women’s new and gently used running shoes, reconditions them and distributes them to those who are homeless or living in poverty in Richmond. Shood is known for its monthly Shood Shares, shoe giveaways that are held throughout Richmond. Shood partners with local churches, soup kitchens and food pantries that regularly offer free meals and are connected with those who need support.
When and why Shood was founded: In February 2017 while volunteering at Red Door RVA Soup Kitchen, I had a conversation with David, a weekly soup kitchen guest. I was wearing running gear and he asked about my morning run. David mentioned having holes in his shoes and asked if I could find him a new pair. He then asked, “I wonder what happens to runner’s shoes after a big race?” A light bulb went on. Typically, avid runners retire their shoes between 300 to 500 miles and go through three pairs of shoes annually, while on average, people who live in poverty walk 10 to 15 miles per day. Although retired running shoes are not good for running additional races, these shoes have many miles left to give to someone whose main source of transportation is walking.
Why the name Shood: Shood, pronounced “shoed,” was developed in a pro bono rebrand by the local integrated marketing firm, Elevation Advertising. Elevation presented their ideas for different name options and Shood (Shoes for Good) was the clear favorite that truly captured the spirit of our fun-loving, optimistic organization. Both volunteers and guests love our name. Our guests often use Shood as a verb: “I just got Shood!”
Shood partners with: Incredible groups who help us collect and distribute our donated shoes, socks and foot care bags.
Running shoes versus other shoes because: Shood feels running shoes are the best shoes for those we serve. Most of our Shood Share guests walk many miles a day to work, appointments and outreach services across Richmond. Running shoes are safe, functional and comfortable. Our hope is that our shoes will have an immediate impact on health and wellness while helping individuals step forward in dignity.
Most memorable reaction after giving a pair of shoes: There are many amazing connections that happen between guests and volunteers at our Shood Shares. My most memorable moment was during our first Shood Share when Harry stopped by. I already knew Harry from Red Door Soup Kitchen. He was a regular guest who I enjoyed talking to each week. Harry walked into our first Shood Share with his size 12.5 high-top shoes falling apart. I still remember him pulling off his old shoes and trying on a new pair of HOKA Running Shoes. He had this huge smile from ear to ear. I asked Harry if I could keep his old pair of shoes. He shook his head in disbelief and asked me why in the world would I want to keep them. I told him I knew there would come a day when I might get tired and frustrated and his shoes would remind me why we started Shood. Sad to say, Harry passed away suddenly in 2020, but his shoes are still in my office and I think of him often.
No. 1 goal of Shood: Shood’s goal is to help the men and women in our community take their steps in comfort and dignity. But sadly, many of them lack access to a good pair of shoes. Shood wants to place high-quality shoes on those living in poverty on a consistent basis.
Strategy for achieving goal: COVID-19 has made us realize that Shood needs to be mobile. We want to raise money to take Shood on the road. For our first 31⁄2 years, we have been fortunate to borrow a van and driver from Creative Contracting. A mobile Shood Store would give us the flexibility to distribute shoes anywhere, anytime. We also need to continue to increase new or gently used running shoe donations, new athletic sock donations, monetary donations and donations of foot care bag items — nail clippers, foot powder, etc. The more donations we receive, the more work we can do in RVA. To operate safely, donations of PPE and other supplies to create a safe environment for our Shood Share guests and volunteers would also be greatly appreciated.
Racial equity and Shood: Shood’s core premise is dignity, regardless of income level, housing situation or background. We believe every action matters and every interaction matters. Race should not pre-determine one’s socioeconomic station or access to the opportunities to change one’s station in life.
How I start the day: It is pure chaos in my house in the mornings, so caffeine is a must. We are not morning people and like everyone else, we are still figuring out the world of school during COVID-19. Next up is Max, our adopted German Shepherd, who loves a car ride and a morning run. So we typically drive somewhere to go for a nice run. You can tell who’s the boss in our house. Then it is time for Shood. I wear many hats. My mornings can consist of picking up and/ or cleaning shoes, packing for Shood Shares, hosting Shood Shares, working with community partners, office paperwork or planning Shood’s future.
Three words that best describe me: Passionate, dedicated and fun.
Best late-night snack: Our family loves a good movie night and I love salty and sweet. So, a big bowl of popcorn and boxes of movie candy are always a hit.
How I unwind: A run with my dog, wine with friends, date nights with my husband and movie nights with my family are all things that help me unwind and make me happy.
Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I have zero interest in cooking anything. I burn water. Lucky to have married a great cook! So surprisingly, I prefer to chop, stir, drink wine and clean up after dinner.
Quote that most inspires me: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
At the top of my “to-do’’ list: Pick up donated shoes at Fleet Feet and bag up donated shoes for volunteers to clean at home.
Personal list: Help my son with his fifth-grade science project, “The Glowing Pickle.”
Best thing my parents ever taught me: Do the things that scare you the most and live with no regrets. Although the idea of starting a nonprofit was scary and outside of my wheelhouse, I was more afraid to pass up an incredible opportunity to serve others. Both of my parents have passed away, but I believe they would have loved Shood and I feel they are a part of the work we do every day.
Person who influenced me the most: My husband, Brad. When the idea of Shood came along, I didn’t know how to begin the process. Brad told me to go for it. He reminded me daily to have zero fear asking for advice from people I admire and to rely on others for help. In the past, I felt I needed to do everything on my own. But with a nonprofit, there is no way you can run a volunteer-based organization without help or guidance. I realized that to have an impact, I needed a strong team of volunteers, partners, donors and board members. Happy to say, I have a support system that I wouldn’t be successful without. I rely, recognize and respect them as critical members of Shood’s mission.
Book that influenced me the most: “Big Magic: How to Live a Creative Life, and Let Go of Your Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert.
What I’m reading now: “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson.
Next goal: Hug everyone, whenever we get the OK.