Melissa Bain embraces a challenge head-on.
When she was 29, she came to a crossroads in her life. It was decision time: either continue in her current position with the nonprofit Soles 4 Souls organization or move forward with her plans to accept an international travel position, which had been a dream of hers and her husband, Heath.
The couple had served two years together on staff with Soles 4 Souls, coordinating shoe drives and delivering the shoes to impoverished areas around the country. Before they were married, they traveled to Haiti in 2010 as Soles 4 Souls volunteers. Life took off quickly after that. They came back to the Shoals, got married and spent the next 16 months on the road, living in their Soles 4 Souls recreational vehicle, based in McFarland Park.
The couple was on the fast track with the organization, establishing a name for themselves as go-getters who had a passion for people and their work. They were negotiating the new position as international travel managers, which would involve coordinating several overseas trips a year to deliver shoes, and hope, primarily throughout Central and South America.
Then, in July, tragedy struck while the couple was working in Sherman, Texas. Heath suffered a fatal aortic aneurism. He was 30.
“I thought about what I was going to do for a while,” Bain said. “I initially took the attitude that I couldn’t do the international travel thing without my husband. That was our dream, mine and his. Our plan. It’s a scary thought when you’ve traveled with your husband and depended on him for nearly two years, then you’re suddenly all by yourself.”
But she said Heath’s words kept playing and replaying in her mind: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” It had become their motto as a couple.
For Bain, taking on the new position — that is if the organization’s offer still stood — was a little scary.
Soon, she was named Travel 4 Souls manager of group travel, which means Bain recruits groups of volunteers to go abroad carrying out the Soles 4 Souls mission.
Her first trip is a stay in Guatemala from March 23-27. She will accompany 20 volunteers from the Shoals who will partner with missionaries Josh and Jessica Byrd, also from the Shoals, to provide new shoes from the organization’s footwear partners.
Florence resident Tracy Fowler got an up-close look at the organization when she traveled with Melissa for six months after Heath’s death.
“We finished up the tour all over the country in the RV, and it really set the bar high for any other job I could ever hope to have,” Fowler said. “I had a slim idea of what Heath and Melissa did, but it was beyond what I’d imagined.
“I realized that communities around the country had fallen in love with this couple. They were doing exactly what they were cut out to do, and Melissa is keeping it up. I couldn’t be prouder of her bravery and dedication to this organization.”
Fowler said she’s never been out of the U.S., but she has no qualms about her upcoming endeavor in Guatemala.
She said she has gained great insights into Soles 4 Souls, and she knows it’s about offering more than shoes to a people in need.
“It’s about offering people hope, and I know just from working with Melissa for six months that it helps me as much as anyone,” Fowler said.
Others making the trip, including Mattie Lewis, of Florence, said it’s impossible to predict the range of emotions that will be experienced in Guatemala.
“You always think you’ll be strong, but these are children who haven’t even washed their feet before, and for us to be there serving them, well, I just think it will be emotional on a level I can’t imagine right now,” she said.
Several fundraisers are in the works to help offset expenses. There will be a musical showcase and silent auction Feb. 5 at FloBama in downtown Florence; a community clothing drive at March’s First Friday in Florence, where every pound of clothing will earn 10 cents toward the participants’ fee; and a wine-tasting event at the Wine Seller with the night’s proceeds going toward the trip’s fund.
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.
What: FloBama musical showcase and silent auction
When: 7-11 p.m. Tuesday
Details: Artists include 3-Wheel Drive, Chris Lucas, Archie Hubbard, Melissa Daniel Bain, Drumb and Drumber, the Whiskey River Kings, The Pyles and Will McFarlane.
Donations will be accepted to help offset costs for the team of 20 traveling to Guatemala in March with Soles 4 Souls.