By Celine Klosterman
During breakout sessions he’s led at youth rallies, Nate Howard has told teenagers to find something they’re passionate about. Seek ways to help the world, he’s said.
He’s taken his own advice. For two years the 16-year-old member of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine has been helping raise support for charity: water, a New York-based organization that provides clean water in developing nations. He has volunteered for community fundraisers and awareness-raising events, sold merchandise benefiting the nonprofit, and joined fellow Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee member Maggie Gehlsen at Diocese of Davenport youth rallies to speak about needs in Africa.
“I’m very blessed,” said Howard, a junior at Muscatine High School. “I don’t have to worry where my food’s going to come from; I live in a nice house… I can’t imagine living without clean water.” Volunteering for an organization that provides a basic necessity helps him keep in perspective daily annoyances like losing a tennis match or not getting enough sleep, he added.
Howard learned about charity: water in eighth grade, when Andy Landers spoke to local students about the water crisis in parts of Africa. Landers was then a Muscatine resident who, after traveling to Africa with his wife Jody, helped get the Muscatine community involved in charity: water. Not long after the presentation, Howard’s school, West Middle School in Muscatine, put on a talent show for which the entrance fee was a donation to charity: water. The show raised enough money to drill a well in Liberia, Howard said. Impressed, he asked Landers about getting involved in the Muscatine branch of the organization.
Soon, the student was helping with local fundraisers and school events. In summer 2010, he joined several other supporters of charity: water in strapping on a jerry can – a water container — and walking in the Quad City Times Bix 7 race in Davenport to raise awareness. In fall 2010, he helped with the Wine to Water fundraiser in downtown Davenport.
In fall 2011 and the following spring, Howard gave presentations on charity: water at diocesan youth rallies. Gehlsen, a member of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt, spoke on Save Darfur, which works to help families who have been affected by genocide in western Sudan.
Diseases from unclean water and lack of sanitation kill more people annually than all violence, including war, according to charity: water. About 30,000 people die every week from unsafe water and unhygienic conditions, and the United Nations predicts that improving water supply and sanitation could prevent 10 percent of the global disease burden.
Youths can help by donating or starting school or parish campaigns. You don’t have to do something huge; every bit helps, Howard and Gehlsen have told teens. “You don’t have to be passionate about what we’re passionate about, but find something you can do,” he said.
A member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, he believes he’s found how he can contribute. “God gave me the ability to speak publicly and influence people. It’s important to use those gifts to make the world a better place.”
The student is considering studying business management in college and would like to run his own nonprofit someday.
Crystal DeNeve, the Grinnell Deanery’s adult representative on DYMC, believes he’ll accomplish whatever he sets his mind to. “Nate is one of the most caring, energetic, humorous, ambitious, passionate young men I have had the pleasure of getting to know.” She said he truly listens to adults’ advice and is a role model for her son Dallas, 10. He has admired Howard since the teen took Dallas “under his wing” on the weekend of a youth rally and patiently discussed charity: water.
“Nate does a wonderful job sharing his love for life with others, and I have enjoyed watching him share his wisdom and enthusiasm with young people,” DeNeve said.