Students at Western Wyoming Community College will collect water donations in support of The Flint Project at Wal-Mart in Rock Springs on Saturday, April 23. The donated water will be transported to Flint, Mich., where residents are coping with a continued lack of safe drinking water. Students will collect donations in the Wal-Mart parking lot from 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“A lot of the local businesses in town have already donated quite a bit of water so far,” said organizer Rashel Travis, 28, a Flint native and current resident of Rock Springs. Travis and her classmates in Assistant Professor of Spanish Nish Goicolea’s evening Spanish 1020 class are conducting the water-collection drive as a service-learning project. For the event, they will park a U-Haul at Wal-Mart on Saturday bearing a sign that reads: “Fill It for Flint.”
The organizers will also host a t-shirt sale at the collection event, with all proceeds going to buy more water. And they are asking Sweetwater County residents to make Friday, April 22, “No Water Day.”
“We’re asking the community and everyone who is not affected by the water crisis to join in,” Travis said. “No water, no consumption of it, no showers, no brushing your teeth. You can use the restroom. If you have to wash your hands, we ask that you use hand sanitizer. And, all of the water that you don’t use that day, donate to the residents of Flint.”
Of course, collecting the water is only part of the challenge. It must also be shipped halfway across the continent. Another Michigan resident, Michael Fox, who graduates from Western in May, and his father have agreed to transport the water in a rented U-Haul truck back to Flint. Fox lives in the Detroit metropolitan area and is transferring to Michigan State University in the fall to complete his bachelor’s degree in political science.
“They’ve had some trouble, with not being able to drink the water out of their own faucets,” Fox said. “But we’re going to bring back a U-Haul full of water. It’s a 20-hour trip.”
Fox, 19, who works as an English tutor in the Peer Tutor Center, isn’t old enough to drive the rented U-Haul, but his father, Joseph Fox, Jr., who was already flying out for his son’s graduation, offered to drive back in the truck with Michael. The Western Leadership Council, the senior leadership group for Western Wyoming Community College, agreed to cover logistical expenses for the transport.
“He likes to help out, too,” Fox said of his dad. “We were going to go to Yellowstone, but that can wait.
“Flint’s worse off than Detroit,” he added. “Detroit’s actually growing. Flint was really hurt by the recession in the auto industry. Thankfully, Detroit was a lot more diversified, with banking and tourism. It wasn’t all auto, although that was a big sector. But Detroit is rebounding, and Flint really isn’t. And now they have no water.”
Travis moved from Flint to Sweetwater County three years ago in search of reliable employment and a better life for her and her son, Gabriel. Her father, Richard Vasquez, still lives there. When Goicolea asked her students to come up with a service-learning project as part of their coursework, Travis and two of her friends thought of the Flint residents whose ongoing water crisis has made national headlines for months.
“A classmate of mine named Josh and a friend of mine named Natalie said, ‘Maybe you need to do something for Flint.’ I had just given a speech in my public-speaking class about the water crisis in Flint, and it was such a success that once I heard the idea, I just took off with it,” Travis said.
“We haven’t been planning it that long, but we have received such positive feedback from the community that it’s becoming way bigger than I thought it would be.”
Goicolea, who introduced service learning to her classes in hopes of engaging students in real-world civic action, expressed pride in the students’ commitment to The Flint Project.
“This experience has evolved beyond my expectations,” Goicolea said. "They have taken a simple idea and now are making a meaningful difference for people in Flint. I am so proud of them, and of our community here in Wyoming, for stepping up to do something good for people in another community who need our help."
Travis noted that, although the Flint water crisis has faded somewhat from national headlines and cable newscasts, the problems with Flint’s polluted water supply have not been fixed. Many residents there still cannot drink the water that comes out of their taps. The problems began when city officials switched the municipal water supply to the Flint River to save money, then failed to address residents’ concerns about the malodorous, discolored and foul-tasting water, which reportedly contained hazardous levels of lead from old, corroded water pipes.
“If you’re not actually going through it yourself, you tend to forget about it,” Travis said. “I think that’s where we play a big role in raising awareness and keeping it fresh in people’s minds. It’s something that I am passionate about because my family still lives there. When I hear my dad tell me that they have to bathe with buckets of water and they have to boil it, and then to see Western Wyoming Community College and all its faculty and students being so responsive, it’s really nice.”
Travis said her father is a donation site coordinator at the Flint church where the donations will be delivered.
“My dad said, ‘Tell everybody thank you so much for all their efforts! Whether it’s one bottle or a case, it’s needed.’”
Travis is working to complete her general-studies degree at Western, and she plans to transfer to a university that offers aeronautical science. She said The Flint Project has illustrated for her the value of service learning as part of a college education.
“I think this is something I will remember for the rest of my life,” Travis said. “This is a big event in my life that is shaping me as a person. Not only that, but I am learning a lot about doing the right thing and learning to give back. So I definitely think it’s shaping me for what’s more to come later in my life.”