“I was a professional dancer for most of my adult life. I love the art form for its innate healing nature,” Julie Colombino said. However, throughout her life, the duet she danced always included a passion for the poor. “When I was working on my undergraduate degree in Miami (a B.A. in Building Communities through the Arts from FIU), I also taught modern dance and creative art therapy to incarcerated women at a maximum-security prison.”
When she moved to Central Florida, initially to dance in a professional company, she also earned a master’s degree in Nonprofit Management from UCF. During that time, she volunteered at the Coalition for the Homeless and with the Jobs Partnership of Florida as an advocate for the homeless, also serving as president of the United Nations Association of Greater Orlando.
Gaining a Global Perspective
Colombino was also involved in several overseas relief efforts. But her life was altered forever when she boarded a disaster-relief plane filled with volunteers on January 23, 2010 bound for Haiti. It was just 13 days after the earthquake. Looking back, she said, “Essentially I was clueless as to the devastation I was about to encounter. There is not a certificate I know of, an educational program or a reality show that could possibly prepare a human being to work in the tragedy of post-earthquake Haiti. However, I felt a really strong calling to participate in the rebuilding of the country.”
The vision for “REBUILD,” an acronym for “Restoring Environments By Utilizing Innovative Local Development,” began to germinate as she pondered a number of different initiatives for what she saw everywhere around her. “No matter what was taking place on any given day, there were a few truths that remained apparent to me: People needed jobs and we needed to find a practical and environmentally safe way to dispose of tires, as the camps were permeated with the toxic black smoke from the burning trash and tires,” she said.
“I started to think about my time in Africa and I remembered that I had seen men making sandals from tires on the side of the road. Here in Haiti, women were begging for jobs, kids were running around on top of rubble and trash barefoot and of course the burning tires. REBUILD globally (RG) didn’t begin in an attempt to end global poverty through social enterprise; it was just an earnest desire to find a solution to these problems.” Colombino’s solution was a social enterprise however, and thus the idea of the RG sandal training center and workshop was created.
An Ever-Expanding Opportunity
In spite of the heartache, the setbacks and the challenges that are part of daily life in Haiti, her efforts to recycle tires and leather and turn them into a fashionable pair of sandals have led to a consumer product that you can now buy at Ron Jon’s Surf Shop and other retail outlets, along with employment and opportunity for the people of Haiti. Colombino’s vision is to expand her manufacturing concept across the island nation and to other locations around the world, in addition to marketing RG’s sandals to an ever-expanding and compassion- conscientious market.
RG was given the 2012 Business Innovation and Growth (BIG) Award from the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce worth $50,000 in marketing support, not to mention the business mentoring she has gratefully received. In addition, they were the recipients of a grant, which assisted them in securing living-wage employment to empower an additional 20 artisans.