Water is focus of service project – '8 Ounces at a Time'

seven individuals donating bottles of water to Salvation Army

“Hydration” is the buzzword on parched lips these days as temperatures heat up in the Valley of the Sun. For those who are homeless, unemployed or in special needs, water becomes a critical factor for survival during the summer.

An instructor at Arizona State University, with the help of students, faculty and staff, is making a difference with a project she calls “8 Ounces at a Time.”

“We have a great group of students who want to be part of the community, but don’t know quite how sometimes. ‘How do I make my contribution to society as a student?’ they ask. So, I give them options,” said Jennifer Brougham, an instructor who teaches classes in marriage and family in ASU’s School of Social and Family Dynamics.

In a “community corner” section for her online classes, Brougham posts information about volunteer opportunities. Recently, she posted an idea that even students on a tight budget could embrace: Donate just one bottle – 8 ounces – of water to their local Salvation Army center.

“It’s the butterfly effect,” she explained, referring to a phenomenon in which a small change in one location, like the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings in Arizona, can have a measurable impact somewhere else, for example, the formation of a thunderstorm in the Midwest. “As a society, if we can’t do something huge, we often think it’s not worth doing. Yet, in an online class of 975 students, imagine the outcome if each student was able to donate one 8-ounce bottle of water.”

Brougham, who has a background in social work, has been involved with working with the homeless for many years. “I was well aware of the water situation being an issue during the summer months in Arizona and the cost of providing water for those facilities, like the Salvation Army, that do community outreach,” she said.

The idea for “8 Ounces at a Time” bubbled up when Brougham was visiting the Salvation Army facility at 714 S. Myrtle Ave. in Tempe, across the street from the large ASU campus. She and George Eastlick, the social services coordinator there, were discussing the cost of water, when Brougham noticed a family asking for water to pour in their toddler’s sippy cup.

“I made up my mind to start a project to help,” she said, and two weeks before the spring semester ended, Brougham began spreading the word.

“Since she came up with this wonderful idea, we’ve had more than 1,000 bottles of water donated from ASU,” said Eastlick. “Even one bottle of water can make a difference,” he added.

Word of Brougham’s “8 Ounces at a Time” is having the ripple effect she imagined.

ASU’s Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) is involved as are students from the Air Force and Navy ROTC units in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“I think Jennifer realized the potentially extraordinary impact of encouraging each person to make one small donation: a single bottle of water,” said Tyler Barratt, an ASU graduate student in counseling psychology who serves as vice president of internal affairs for GPSA.

“I offered to spread the word … because I think graduate students tend to strongly value community and social involvement, but often get so consumed by their work. This project reminds us that a significant, consequential need can be addressed if everyone makes even a tiny contribution that will take no more than a brief moment from their day,” Barratt said.

The ROTC units, where Brougham teaches in a leadership class about professional and personal relationships in a military culture, also chose to support “8 Ounces at a Time.”

Involvement by cadets was a natural fit, according to Lt. Col. Terry Plumb, commander of the Air Force ROTC detachment at ASU.

“ASU is very supportive of ROTC and when professor Brougham approached us about getting involved, we were excited to help. Homelessness is a concern for us in the military because many of the homeless are veterans. This service project is another opportunity for us to teach our cadets how the Air Force takes care of people,” Plumb said.

What began as a small idea, and grew from five cases of water donated by co-workers in the School of Social and Family Dynamics, to more than 1,000 individual bottles of water from students across ASU, is only the beginning, said Brougham, whose hope is to continue the service project into the fall semester.

She believes that as word spreads, more and more members of the ASU community will drop off a bottle of water to the Salvation Army center in their city.

Donations at the Salvation Army center on the northwest corner of University Drive and Myrtle Avenue in Tempe are accepted from 9 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“If every person donated just one bottle,” Brougham said, “it would make a profound contribution.”