Teen entrepreneur training his peers to realize their dreams

SHOED Gallery wants to inspire and heal the community through art

Teen entrepreneur training his peers to realize their dreams

Most often when talking about mentorship, we think of an older, wiser and enlightened person passing down life experiences to someone much younger who has a lifetime ahead of them.

There is a much different story going on at the SHOED Gallery in Huntersville.

19-year-old Irie Butler is an entrepreneur, and one of the main focuses of the family-owned SHOED Gallery is to inspire and heal the community through art.

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This weekend, there is a special shoe collection that has a dual purpose: to raise funds and change lives.

Butler uses his business model to grow a peer mentoring relationship with young men served by the Boys to Men Foundation.

There is no hierarchy. Butler uses his background to share business skills with the young men. Everyone has equal footing.

“The boys meet once or twice a week in the store to learn business management,” said Timothy Fowler, executive director of Boys to Men. “They are learning to articulate and talk to customers. They learn to network and build their communication skills.”

The big hook is shoes. A myriad of shoes in all colors line the walls of this fresh and innovative shop.

Butler refreshes, restores and renews shoes, and few teenage boys would pass up the opportunity to be part of something like this.

“This helps these young men because this is what they like to do. They like sneakers, so why not use what they love to learn a skill,” Fowler said. “They are future entrepreneurs.”

The Boys to Men Foundation has aided more than 1,200 young men with help from hundreds of volunteer mentors.

As part of the program, boys ages 9-17 receive mentoring and tutoring, as well as home and school visits by qualified mentors. To participate in the program, parents and students must be involved in community service activities, and parents must attend monthly workshops provided by the foundation.

The signature motto of the Boys to Men Foundation is “a step in the right direction.”

The three-part series at the SHOED Gallery covers key aspects of business.

“They learn how to master cleaning and designing a shoe,” Fowler said. “They learn how to speak and sell a product, and learn their interpersonal and customer service skills.”

The SHOED Gallery Funds2Orgs Shoe Drive will take place every weekend through Nov. 29 at the SHOED Gallery Birkdale location. SHOED Gallery will earn funds based on the total weight of donated gently worn, used and new shoes collected. All funds collected will go to entrepreneurs with Boys to Men Foundation to teach hands-on, basic and advanced business skills.

“This program is a beautiful thing,” Fowler said. “It is a catalyst that will change these boys' lives.”

The main element that separates Butler’s mentoring relationships is that, as a peer, he also is focused on learning and growth.

From customizing and restoring sneakers, marketing and retail management the Boys to Men foundation is equipping these kids with the necessary skills to succeed, and inspiring them to find their calling.

If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.