CLEVELAND — “Girls with Sole” is a local nonprofit dedicated to empowering and uplifting girls who have experienced abuse.
The soles of the feet are used to bring light and healing to girls throughout Northeast Ohio who have experienced abuse. Through this program, participants work to overcome dark issues.
”I was in foster care when I was a kid and experienced sexual abuse as a child,” said founder Liz Ferro.
She said she had a lot of negative energy and didn’t know where to put it— until she experienced sports and fitness programs.
“It really showed me all the things you can benefit from. Not just strength physically but inner strength,” she said.
Ferro decided to take those childhood lessons to show troubled girls who to be empowered through fitness and wellness.
“I think I was a little naive. I knew there was a need for it but I didn't know how great it was,” Ferro said.
Statistics in 2018 show there are over 3,000 reports of child abuse and neglect in Cuyahoga County—making it the highest in the state.
To lower those numbers, Ferro took her programs straight to the girls, even when she wasn’t well received.
"They will verbally tell you I'm not going to participate or just to let you know I hate exercise or even I hate you."
Aly Dieckhoner, who is a graduate of the program, shared her experience when she first met Liz.
"I saw this crazy, energetic lady come in and I'm like, why is this lady so happy,” said Dieckhoner.
It was a strange sight for Dieckhoner who wasn’t used to seeing that positivity growing up.
"I was dealing with situations at home. I was in and out of foster care, in and out of homes with different people....they were not treating me well. They were physically abusing me, mentally so it was pretty rough growing up."
Ferro said when she looks at the girls, she sees herself in them.
“I was in a really bad place for a really long time and my heart just breaks sometimes when I see myself in them. But then I know that they need it the most, so I keep going back and it really motivates me and inspires me,” she said.
It’s an attitude she hopes will help those girls step out of those dark places.
"I love to have the girls exposed to things they wouldn't normally experience because I think that's extremely empowering. Sometimes I'll have somebody say well Ms. Liz black girls don't hike! And I'm like really because that's weird because we all have legs and we're all hiking so apparently they do,” Ferro said.
"Girls with Sole" teaches the hardest things in life can be overcome.
"It’s really amazing to watch the transition, it’s what keeps me going. The biggest craziest word that will stick with me that comes from Girls With Sole is resiliency," Ferro said.
Find more info here.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.