What began as a group of Island women getting together to ride their bikes, get some exercise and enjoy each other’s company evolved into an energized group who would answer to a higher calling. The Good Soles, as they would go on to be called, would end up reaching out to Island elders, who, during the pandemic, were particularly suffering from isolation.
“It started last summer with about 10 Black women, all of us over 50 years old,” Naina Lassiter Williams said, “and then in October, one of the group, Amy Goldson, came across an ad offering morning hikes sponsored by the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation and the Vineyard Conservation Society. We all thought that hiking would be a good alternative to biking,”
The group’s first hike would be at Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary. and the hikers that day were both wowed and hooked. “We had a ball,” Williams said, “I didn’t know there were so many trails on the Island; it opened up a whole new world to us.” The group agreed to hike at least once a week, said Kendall Reid, one of the original hikers, and they would attempt to cover all the trails in William Flender’s guidebook, “Walking Trails of Martha’s Vineyard.”
For their second walk, the group went to Menemsha Hills Reservation. “One of the hikers, Diane Scotland, had done a half-marathon in Canada,” Williams said, “and she told us she was wearing the same shoes she wore for the marathon.
“I told Diane that she shouldn’t wear those shoes because they were 3 years old, but she replied, ‘They’re perfectly good soles!’” The group looked at one another and realized that they had just come up with a name for their group — the Good Soles.
Over time the group expanded its ranks — summer visitors would come and go, younger women would join the hikes, even some men would join in. “Whoever wants to come can come,” Williams said. “I don’t care if they’re white, purple, or black, the group keeps evolving.”
Looking back at memorable moments, Williams recalls a hike at Great Rock Bight Preserve where “we came across what appeared to be an altar with deliberately placed stones, a walking stick, feathers, and brightly colored beads.”
They had stumbled upon a gravesite marked by a plaque from the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s VIneyard, which read, “Rebecca, Woman of Africa. Born in Africa and enslaved in Chilmark, she married Elisha Amos, a Wampanoag Man, was the mother of Nancy Michael, and died a free woman in this place in 1800.”
Kendall Reid said that the group went home and did some research, and were all taken by the fact that now, over 200 years later, 10 black women were standing on the shoulders of Rebecca.
The Good Soles continued their weekly walks well into January, when weather forced them to temporarily call it quits. But as they approached the holiday season, “the group thought that they should be more than just ‘good soles,’” Williams said. “They should be good SOULS as well.”
The group decided to commit their efforts to the Island’s elderly community who, because of the pandemic, were feeling more and more isolated. And since Christmas was approaching, they decided the way to reach out to the elders would be by Christmas caroling. They would serenade the Island elders at their own homes.
“We ended up going to about 30 homes,” Williams said. “Many of these folks were people we had known for years, people who had been instrumental in shaping our lives.” Most of the Good Soles hadn’t been caroling in years, but it didn’t make any difference — the important thing was to make people who might have felt isolated by the pandemic feel a part of the holiday celebration. (But incidentally, by all reports, they also sounded great!)
In addition to the caroling, the Good Soles decided to also collect some money to give to the elders. They started by having each member donate $20, but everyone was so generous, they ended up giving all the recipients a $50 gift certificate for Reliable Market.
But as word got out about what the Good Soles were doing, other businesses wanted to come on board as well. Mahoney’s donated plants, the Grey Barn donated cheeses, Morning Glory Farm donated loaves of zucchini bread. “We made beautiful gift bags,” Williams said. “We were only going to sing two carols apiece at each house, but we got into it, and we got a little carried away. It was so much fun, and we decided that we had to do more things like this.”
One of the recipients of the caroling was 93-year-old Betty Rawlins. Rawlins, a retired educator from Simmons College, was at her home in Oak Bluffs with her granddaughter at the time.
“It’s been a difficult year,” Rawlins said, “and this brought some cheer into our lives. And then they presented me with a shopping bag full of gifts; it was a beautiful gesture. It took me back to when I grew up in Cambridge, and people believed that it took a village, not only to raise kids, but to have a happy life as well.”
After Christmas, the next holiday on the horizon was Valentine’s Day, and since the caroling had gone so well, some of the Good Soles thought that maybe they should try singing to people again. But that idea was soon squelched when they realized that while singing “Deck the Halls” was one thing, the Good Soles singing romantic ballads for Valentine’s Day might be a bit of a reach.
Fortunately, they had a little money left over from Christmas, so the Good Soles decided to make up Valentine gift packages. Each gift bag included a rose from Maurice the Florist and heart-shaped cookies from Sweet Bites. The reactions from the recipients proved to be overwhelming.
“One of the most moving responses,” Williams said, “was from a woman who said, ‘I am in so much pain, I have very little reason to wake up each day, so just know that the rose made me so happy.’”
The next occasion for the Good Soles to reach out wasn’t a holiday, it was a snow day. During the recent snowstorms the Good Soles went around in teams and shoveled the elders’ driveways. “The people we were shoveling for ranged in age from their 70s to one woman who is 103,” Williams said. “The best part is that many of us are in our 60s, and they call us ‘youngsters.’”
The latest endeavor by the Good Soles came out of the confusion that has arisen over getting vaccinations for COVID-19. There are a couple of doctors in the group and the Good Soles are doing community outreach by dropping off hospital forms with Vineyard elders, and helping them fill them out.
Where do the Good Soles go from here? The weather will soon be warming up, so you can bet that they’ll be back out on the trails. And as opportunities arise to help the Island’s elderly population, you can bet they’ll address those as well. “We want to be open to any opportunity that comes our way,” Kendall Reid says, “and we want to have fun.”