Seventeen-year-old Hailee Rogers is a self-proclaimed nerd, and she’s proud of the title.
In what she calls her “past life,” a mere two years ago, she says she was a shy girl with “poufy” brown hair and blue leggings. But after learning to speak before an audience, she realized she had a passion for a very powerful tool.
She became confident enough to give a speech for the Rotary scholarship contest. She came in fourth – but realized winning wasn’t God’s plan for her.
She focused her talk on an organization called ActiveWater, which provides water filters for wells in African villages.
Hailee learned about the organization’s efforts in 2010 when she attended Christ in Youth, a youth church camp in Tennessee.
The campers heard a presentation about ActiveWater and watched a movie, “Zambia’s Song,” that depicted the lives of villagers from Zambia, a country in Africa. Hailee saw people who walked 5 miles daily for clean water because their wells were contaminated by fecal coliform bacteria, which made them ill.
However, the story that stuck with Hailee was Abigail’s – a girl about a year older who has dreams of becoming a journalist.
Hailee realized it was only by chance that Abigail was in this situation. It wasn’t her fault – it was the hand she’d been dealt.
That was it for Hailee. Abigail’s story inspired her to use her voice to gain support for the organization.
“I didn’t expect it. I went (to CIY) to hang out, and I knew it was going to be fun because we were in a different state, but I never expected God to speak to me through a young girl’s voice,” Abigail said.
“In the movie, she talked about her dreams and hopes, and I realized I will be able to reach mine because of where I live, and I’m blessed to receive that, but she may not have the same opportunity.”
That June, Hailee organized a fundraiser for ActiveWater with the Western Hills High School Beta club and raised enough money to build a well filter in Africa.
“I really wanted them to feel what I felt when I saw the movie,” Hailee said about asking her classmates for help.
Her parents have shown her since childhood that working for charities and nonprofit organizations is the right thing to do.
She has volunteered at homeless shelters, the Ronald McDonald House, and has even become more involved since she got her driver’s license, her mother, Teena Oaken, says.
She’s also involved with many clubs as a senior at WHHS, including drama, art and ecology and the National Honor Society. But she exceeded her own expectations in February when she was crowned 2012 Basketball Homecoming Queen.
“It’s any nerd’s dream,” she said about winning.
“And when she won, she could have swallowed an elephant,” Teena said.
Soon thereafter, Hailee had her crown and sash ready to go to school when Teena asked what she was doing.
“I’m giving it back,” Hailee responded.
Her mother explained that was unnecessary because she’d earned it, “but I wanted to pay it forward,” she said.
Hailee took the prizes to crown each of the girls in the learning disabled classes at WHHS and took photos.
“I’ve learned more from my children than I could ever teach them,” Teena said.
Now the teen is preparing for college life at Northern Kentucky University, but she has an adventure planned before she starts classes.
Hailee will visit Abigail in Zambia.
She was asked to go on the trip by Daren Wendell, founder of ActiveWater, who called after he heard about the funds she’s raised and her speech.
“He told her it was great to see a young person doing something so inspiring,” Teena said.
He invited both of them on a trip June 17-30, but it will cost the mother and daughter nearly $10,000. At first the sum seemed too steep a goal – so the mother and daughter prayed.
Now, Hailee and Teena are relying on what they call “faith in the quarter.”
They have received donations from family, friends and strangers who’ve heard their story. But Hailee knows the trip isn’t simply an opportunity for her to meet Abigail and travel.
“The fact that people are joining together with other community members shows that people do still care,” she said.
“This isn’t about the money, it proves people care for more than just sex and propaganda.”
Teena has received emails every day from people around the globe wanting to take the fundraising journey with them. She is about halfway to her goal.
And even if she can’t raise enough money to make the trip herself, she knows she can help build a well to provide clean water for several people in Africa with the funds she’s raised so far.
Hailee’s plans don’t stop when she returns from Africa in June.
She has written about every step she’s made so far with the fundraising and plans to write a book about her journey to meet Abigail.
Hailee knows Abigail wants to be a journalist to spread the word about her village, and Hailee plans to publish a book about their experience to help.
Hailee says she will continue to spread her message using Abigail’s voice – hoping it will reach someone like it did her.
In the fall she’ll study psychology, which she has studied in high school and through a few college courses. However, the other day her father asked her if psychology was her passion.
“I realized it’s really only my hobby,” she said.
“Through this journey I’ve realized my calling is working with nonprofit organizations and not working behind the desk, but serving others. Ironically ActiveWater started this journey for me.”