Josiah Casildo grew up in what he describes as one of the roughest neighborhoods in the South Bronx with his three older siblings, his father who immigrated to the US from Guatemala and his mother from Honduras. He did his best in school and often translated between his teachers and parents. Josiah saw a lot of friends join gangs and one, in particular, who he loved, get arrested and go to jail for six years. Still, Josiah dreamed of something different.
Kristin Ostby is the President & CEO of the organization. She leads the Boys Hope Girls Hope Network and directs the Network Headquarters team; reporting to the Network Board of Directors.
“I know we’re never fully independent as we depend on other people, but I wanted to be independent enough to rely on myself to support my family.”
“As a kid,” Josiah said, “I got a sense that this is not where I want to be. If I stay here in the projects any longer, all those dreams and opportunities when I look at the towers outside my window will just be a view.” In the sixth and seventh grade, Josiah was seeking an opportunity for a new life. Many doors seemed to open but then closed. It was in the 8th grade when he finally found the right door, as Josiah’s counselor recommended Boys Hope Girls Hope of New York. “This is the situation for you,” she told him. Josiah’s parents, his father in particular, were hesitant for him to leave home to live in the residential program. Josiah told his father, “I’m not going to do anything with my life if I stay here.”
The first year away from his family was very tough for Josiah. “I started as a very scared freshman.” During that year, Josiah learned a lot about himself, the world and all that he had to offer. “People recognized talent in me that I didn’t understand I had. They thought the way I play the piano was really cool, a big deal.” He gained confidence with time. “I started to know the world and had 40 new brothers and all of the counselors who were with me, along with my family. I wasn’t scared anymore.”
Josiah is now a sophomore at the Rochester Institute of Technology where he majors in business management and has launched his first business. In one of his classes, Josiah’s professor asked the students to think of ideas for a business and guided them to consider a simple problem that they could solve with a creative solution. Josiah was looking down at an expensive pair of shoes that his brother helped him to buy, and then looked outside to see the day had turned from sunny and nice to cloudy and snowy. Josiah thought to himself, “Of all days, I had to wear these shoes! I wish I had something that could protect my shoes” and said his thoughts quickly turned to plastic bags, which he knew weren’t eco-friendly. When the professor called on Josiah, his voice cracked and he said, “How about a biodegradable shoe cover?” His professor and classmates loved the idea and Josiah began to pursue it.
“Boys Hope Girls Hope allowed me to open up and be vulnerable in a safe area where I know that the people I’m opening up to genuinely love me and understand me…Without the love and openness, you will always be boxed in and not able to do things you’re capable of doing…”
Today, Josiah’s company, Shoe Coat NYC, is selling shoe coats to clients across the US. Josiah was able to tap into help from classmates and the RIT campus business co-op to get the website and plan off the ground. He used the Alibaba site to locate manufacturers in China and talked with many before finding his match. Josiah credits the communications skills he learned at Boys Hope Girls Hope with much of his success to date. Josiah is often up at 2 or 3 a.m. taking calls from his manufacturing partner. Losing sleep has been the hardest part, he says. Josiah often receives boxes from China now and quickly packs and repacks the biodegradable shoe covers to get them out to his customers. He said his parents watch him and encourage him with great pride. “I come from a situation where my family has always been working for someone else and always struggling. I know we’re never fully independent as we depend on other people, but I wanted to be independent enough to rely on myself enough to support my family.”
Josiah dreams of expanding his business to other eco-friendly products and having the chance to travel the world and meet people. When asked how the program impacted his life, Josiah quietly reflected and said, “Boys Hope Girls Hope allowed me to open up and be vulnerable in a safe area where I know that the people I’m opening up to genuinely love me and understand me. That’s something brown and black boys and girls need. It’s hard to be vulnerable when you live in rough areas because people take advantage of you. Without the love and openness, you will always be boxed in and not able to do things you’re capable of doing. You’re not going to be able to express yourself or experience what you need to experience to grow as a person.”
For everyone who has met Josiah and experienced his intelligence, confidence and tender heart, there is no question he will continue to have an impact and be an example for many.
For last minute, eco-friendly, holiday gifts in support of an incredible young entrepreneur, check out Shoe Coat NYC today!