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Daren Wendell

What is your official title?

My official title is Co-founder and Executive Director of Active Water. My colleague calls me ‘Chief’ sometimes, which I find to be pretty funny. As much as I could be called the Executive Director, I could also be called the, ‘Take-the-trash-out Guy’.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

I don’t like average days, but typically what it looks like is I wake up around 7:00am, head into work and grab some coffee. We are an educational and fundraising non-profit, and one of our core values is Expedient Communication, so I want to get back with people as quickly as possible.

After work, I head to Bronson Athletic Club to complete my daily workout (they’re a sponsor of Run Daren Run), hang out with my wife, and call it a day. That’ll be what my days look like for the next year.


Can you tell us about the history of Active Water?

It’s kind of a crazy story. Back in ’05 I took a trip cycling across the country, 4400 miles, and just had a fantastic time. I flew out to Astoria, Oregon and started cycling solo with a trailer on the back of my bike. My faith is very important to me, and while I was biking I wanted to be able to reach people; I wanted to be the church for the people I met along the way. 74 days and 4400 miles later I met my dad in Virginia Beach. From there, I hopped into youth ministry.

It was at that time that I asked myself what’s my responsibility as one of the richest people in the world, which is an American citizen. Through answering those questions, I decided I wanted to open up another chapter in my life that allowed me to do something similar to when I was biking. I was single and able to do something about it at that time, and I thought, hey, let’s just do this.

I started to do some research and wanted to know if it was possible to walk around the planet; I found out it had been done before, and it was a very short list of people who had completed it. I sold everything I owned, car, motorcycle, my bed, TV, anything a 20-something would have, pretty much everything except for a backpack and a few boxes of memories.

I wanted to walk for a cause. I found an organization called Blood:Water Mission, and their organization addresses the water crisis and HIV/AIDS in Africa. It was something I was interested in, and they were interested in what I was doing, so it worked well.

It’s supposed to take seven years to walk around the world, and on March 30, 2008 I started walking up the Appalachian Trail. 2200 mile hike through the woods, and into Canada. I’m six to seven months in, and just experiencing major highs and major lows, and Canada was a low point for me. I had just finished walking across the United States with all of these other people on the trail, and getting into Canada I had lost my camaraderie and was alone.

I called my team back here, and just said, hey, I don’t think I can do this for the next six years. But, I finished walking across the United States, and we decided to make it a team approach. It took me 374 days to walk 3400 miles across the country. I then passed off the baton to two other guys who walked through Europe, and then another guy who just walked halfway across Australia, and we just kept that campaign going.

During my walk across the country, there was a huge response from people – emails, probably 40 different newspapers, short documentaries were done, Vanity Fair and Men’s Health articles, and all of these people said I want to get involved. It was this notion that, hey, if you can walk across the country, I can do blank.

My friend, Amy, who’s the Co-founder of Active Water was a volunteer for Blood:Water Mission and saw the value in raising some serious funds throughout my journey for a cause. So anytime I walked into a town or city, she’d contact the news and set things up. After the walk and this huge following, we didn’t want it to end.

We talked with Blood:Water Mission and at that time they weren’t ready to take us underneath their wing, but they ended up giving us their blessing to start our own organization. We wanted to create an organization that comes alongside the God-sized dreams, passions and abilities that everyone has, and no matter what you want to do, you have a platform to raise funds and awareness to address the water crisis. If you’re going to run a marathon or half-marathon for cancer research, you can do the same thing with Active Water.

So that was the beginning of Active Water. We started five years ago in early 2009, and since then we have gained some pretty significant partnerships that have really pushed us into the future. We have hundreds of athletes, thousands of participants and are coming up on about $1.3 million raised; we’re pretty blessed, and try not to complain too much.

We have partnerships in the United States, Africa, and Asia. Being an educational and fundraising non-profit, we’re not actually the ones doing the work on the ground, and that’s where the partnerships come in. We’re the athletic arm of two organizations. One is Blood:Water Mission – we’ve kept that relationship and if they get an athlete who wants to run or do anything athletic for their foundation, they send them to us to get them all set up with their fundraising sites, promotional materials, incentive materials, coordinators to work with them, etc. We also call all of the people who have donated and thank them, whether it’s a $10 or $100 donation, we want to personally thank everyone who has contributed to helping with the water crisis. The other is Life Water International, out of California, and those are our project sites out of Cambodia and Southeast Asia.

How that all works and what separates us from others is there is a faith component; it’s a platform for us to provide for needs because that’s what we’re called to do. The other thing is the way we approach the water crisis. It’s a holistic approach. A lot of people think, water crisis – let’s build them a well and everything will be fine, and that’s very much the American mentality. But there’s a lot more that goes into it, and building a well is only a short-term fix. Right now in Africa, there are 185,000 broken wells. Churches, non-profits, people with the government go in and, with all great intentions, put a well in for the people, celebrate, then leave. However, the reality is that in two years that well is going to break down and no one knows how to fix it or has the tools to do so. Statistics show that 50% of all water projects fail without community involvement. You’re not involved in the community if you’re doing the work for the people.

We are coming along side our friends in Africa and Asia and helping them carry out the work. We help support a ministry on the ground that employs around 56 Zambian men and women; right now there’s not an American that works there. It’s all done by the neighbors and people who are going to be there for the long term. And that’s the holistic approach. They drill wells, they provide filtration systems that will provide clean water for years and years, they have sanitation-hygiene training, which is huge because they have these people working on the wells and filtration systems, but if they don’t wash their hands, they’re still going to be drinking dirty water. It makes sense to us, because we grew up in the educational system, and a lot of the time education is a luxury there, it’s not a mandate like it is in the U.S.


What kind of projects are you currently working on?

We have a multichannel campaign going on over the next five months. We are adopting a village in Zambia called Coloca, and it’s a new thing where instead of saying ‘Do you want to help a village of 15,000 people,’ it’s ‘Do you want to help out a girl named Sophia in Coloca and this is her story.’ It’s all about being specific, and letting our constituents know what we’ve raised and what the goal is, and how that fundraising has made an impact. We want to cast a vision, build a strategy, and share the stories of the people who’s lives are changing due to the fundraising and giving efforts.

Run Daren Run. I always share with people that, I know no better way to lead than by example, and if we’re going to ask people to run marathons to raise money, that’s something I have experience in, so I should be doing all of the same things as well. I fundraise like everyone else. Run Daren Run is a run across the country – 100 marathons in 100 days to raise $100,000. I’m starting on the Santa Monica Pier and end in Times Square. We figured everything out, which took forever, but we are going through six major media markets and a handful of smaller media markets as well. The goal is flash mob marathons, Forrest Gump style. If you go on the website you can find out where I’m running, what time I’m starting, etc., and you can come out and run with me! It’s an invitation to be a part of the run across the country. I’m trying to get 100 Active Water champions to raise $1000 next to me, so potentially we are raising another $100,000.

I’ve been training for a full year, and have another year of training to go. I’ve been running for the last year getting my body used to where it needs to be for the marathons. I’ve been a long distance athlete all my life, which is also cycling, and swimming. I swam across Lake Michigan to Chicago, which is 42.1 miles from New Buffalo to Navy Pier. I couldn’t touch a boat, and ended up going 50.6 miles non-stop swimming for 35 hours straight. What I should say is that I swam to the Chicago hospital, because that’s where I went immediately after. We raised around $14,000 with that event, and it’s just another example of fundraising with other athletic options. Run Daren Run starts on January 1, 2015, so this next year is all about keeping my body and my mind in shape for what’s to come. I’m really excited for it.


How many pairs of shoes will you go through during your 100 marathons?

I estimated that I need around 25 pairs of shoes from now until then; I switch shoes about every 300 miles. For the run itself, I’ll need about 10 pairs of shoes.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

I didn’t even know there was a Kalamazoo until I moved here. At the time, I was a feather in the wind after I resigned from my job. I got a job at Waterstreet at Oakland as a Barista, and loved that.

I love Kalamazoo, and after being here for awhile, I discovered that I love the fitness behind it all. Going out for a run or workout in mid December-January is athletically minded. You don’t get that in every town. I love how hardcore Kalamazoo is.


What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

One learning moment for me is that I don’t make a decision based on money. I try to make decisions in my life based off of passion and calling mixed. That will mean most likely that I will never have a ton of money, which is fine; I’m rich in other ways. The beginning of the Earth Expedition is when it all hit me, and I learned how to be happy with what I have. I’m fine with what’s on my back and just being content in that way. There’s something great about not being anchored and being debt free, and just being free to do the things that I’m passionate about.


What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?

Well, I don’t have an iPod, so I stream music. Luckily, AT&T cancelled their unlimited plan, so I can stream for free! I listen to a lot of electronic; when I’m working out, I’ve gotta have that kind of stuff.


How do you take your coffee…or do you?

I turned into a coffee snob after working at Waterstreet – I went through three levels of training! People say all coffee tastes the same, and I used to think that too, but no; it’s very different. I take my coffee with sugar and cream – real simple. Waterstreet on Oakland is my spot.


What is your favorite app to use?

This is going to sound really girly, but Etsy. And the reason why is my wife and I have a side business called Hollowed Secrets. I love my Etsy app because whenever you make a sale it goes “Cha-ching”! It helps supplement the income, and we enjoy it; it’s our art outlet.


What is your dream for Active Water?

We want to be the organization that you think of to fundraise for clean water. We are five years old now, and as we grow in scale and capacity, we can help more people. Our goal and our mission and vision is to help communities around the world – we work in Africa and Cambodia now, and as we grow we want to be able to expand our reach to other countries in need.


Daren, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with Daren on facebook and twitter. Also, be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.