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Service Sunday: Pure Thirst

Happy Sunday everyone! Hope everyone successfully navigated April Fool’s Day!

Last week, I wrote about Riley Joy Gantt and her drive to reduce the educational gap by making homework supplies available for everyone. Her organization is Rainbow Pack and you should definitely read more about it here.

This week, I’m going to introduce you to an organization that is especially close to my heart. I first learned about Pure Thirst at a leadership conference I attended the summer before my senior year of high school. The presenter was a boy only a year older than me. He was also the organization’s founder.

I was an ambitious 17-year-old, but I guess I always thought you had to wait to change the world--like there was some unwritten law that said I should just wait til my age didn’t end in a stigmatized “teen” to try to make a difference. But then I saw this young man, practically my own age, standing in front of us, explaining his organization.

I jotted down the organization’s name, probably gave the Facebook page a like and tried to forget about it. But once your mind has been opened to opportunity, you have no choice but to act. It was through his story that I came to realize I could build what y’all know as The Smile Project.

Matt Burnett, the founder of this week’s incredible organization, has since passed the baton to the next group of inspiring leaders but remains active as a mentor to the individuals who now run the show. It was with his help that I was introduced to Catherine Hull, who acts as a Project Coordinator and Finance and Rotary Chair for the organization. I am very grateful for both of their assistance in putting together this very important #ServiceSunday. Without further ado...

Organization: Pure Thirst

The Interview:

Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion: give me a “Happiness is!

Catherine: Happiness is.. sharing in other people’s joy.

Tell me a little bit about your organization.

Catherine: A little bit of background first: Matt founded Pure Thirst when he was in high school and it has always been tied to the Rotary clubs. Our mission is to provide improved water services to people around the world as well as to educate the Pittsburgh community in America. We have events that build awareness of the water crisis and educate the community about what we’re doing. In 2011, Pure Thirst raised $32,000 to build a water tower and purification system in El Jarah, Honduras. This gave 1,500 people access to clean water.

Pure Thirst is supported by both Rotary and Duquesne University (in Pittsburgh) where both Matt (alumnus) and I attend(ed). There are eight current student members of Pure Thirst. We had an interview process with Matt and then we will interview the next group that are entering for the upcoming year. We are all in different majors: business, health science, education, pharmacy, etc. We’re all interested in our respective area and that makes it cross disciplinary in away and makes it mesh together to make the best project possible.

There are three main pillars to what we do. We aim to educate, empower, and engage. One way to do this is through events. We have two big events each year.

The first is the Water Walk.

It is more educational and aims to show people who participate what women and children have to go through every day in third world countries. We ask people to carry a five gallon bucket and walk a mile to see what it’s like. (Unfortunately, this is still a much shorter distance than many of these women and children in other countries are forced to walk). We have vendors and work to keep the event educational and informative.

The second event is called Wine into Water and it is more based around raising funds and raising awareness. It is geared primarily toward Rotary members and the adults in the area. It is a wine and hors d’oeuvres event where we talk a little bit about what we do and have a sort of kick off celebration. This event last took place in the fall and we asked people to donate to the cause. Around that same time, we decided to start a crowdfunding page. We set a goal of $4,000 and in four days, reached it.

Tell me about the communities you serve outside of America.

Catherine: Last summer, Matt did a community assessment in Tanzania to see what the need was and how open the community was to receiving aid from Pure Thirst. The focus was on Olkokola, an area in the Arusha region of Tanzania. The objective in Olkokola is three fold:

  1. This community will receive new piping (the system was set up by their government in the 70s but is in need of repair).

  2. The community will receive filtration for their water supply. The water currently contains a high level of fluoride which actually causes bowed legs, discolored teeth, and other health issues.

  3. Latrines will be installed near the schools.

This year, from July 15 to August 8, five of the eight current Pure Thirst members are going to Tanzania to be involved in the community. We will help them implement the filtration systems and piping that we are working towards.

What language do they speak in Tanzania?

Catherine: Swahili. We got a crash course in it a couple weeks ago but we will be with Spiritan Priests who speak both English and Swahili.

(A little background on that: Duquesne University was founded by Spiritan Priests and was able to connect Pure Thirst members with Spiritan Priests in this particular area of Tanzania).

What is the driving force behind what you do?

Catherine: I think the main thing is just the issue of water. It’s recognizing it as a global crisis and actually helping communities that need it and bringing awareness to the communities that we live in

It is an issue that we should be aware of. In America we are aware of water issues because of recent events in Flint, Michigan. It is something that is impacting us in America, but it is a worldwide issue. I don’t think we can be ignorant about it. We have to act.

What does “service” mean to you?

Catherine: Service, to me, means having a tangible impact on someone’s life and being able to see that- real world. By serving the people in Arusha, Pure Thirst is visibly changing their community for the better. Even just serving the local Pittsburgh community...seeing their mindset change. That’s a service in itself. I don’t know what they’re going to do with that new knowledge. I don’t know if that’ll change the way they live, the products they buy, whether they can help Pure Thirst, etc. But we are providing them with the service of education.

Do you have a favorite quote?

Catherine: Not really a quote, just the simple fact that nothing is impossible. I’ve definitely seen that this year. I dropped out of the group, for a bit, because I didn’t think I had enough time for it and then after studying abroad in China and seeing the water issues there, I was really inspired to come back to the group. Seeing the real world impact that we’re making has been incredible.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Catherine: I think I’ve always been interested in service and this has become my niche. I just encourage anyone to find something that they are semi-interested in and go for it or just get involved as much as you can. That’s definitely been one of the best things that’s happened to me in college and just in life in general. Through all my experiences, I’ve found something I really love so just stay active in your life.


This concludes my sixth #ServiceSunday. Thanks for allowing me to share another impactful organization with you. Make sure to check out what Catherine and her team are doing by following them on Twitter and Facebook or by sharing the website with a friend. And as for other do-gooders out there, don’t ever think for a second that what you are doing goes unnoticed. You never know who might be listening or just who you might inspire.

Big thank you to Catherine and Matt for this one.

As for me, I’ll see you next Sunday as I highlight another phenomenal example of humankind.

Love always,


Looking to nominate an individual or organization that you know? Reach out to The Smile Project on social media or by filling out the contact form here.

Bonus Thought:

Catherine: Can I add one more thing? I thought of something else: Don’t limit yourself. That’s what I wake up to every day. Just never limit yourself.

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