Marcia and I get asked, “Did you ever imagine WaterStep would be where it is 25 years ago?”
That’s easy! The answer is, “No.”
But, looking back is quite fun.
It’s a big story with people impacting lives and doing something they never thought possible. Today, as we meet and talk to people from around the world and hear all kinds of stories, invariably the question arises, “How and why did you decide to work with water?”
At college in Nashville, TN, I was not a good student, but loved student life and enjoyed gathering people to do projects on campus. There was an opportunity for several students to join a work trip to Africa my junior year, so I threw my name in the hat and was chosen to go. Little did I know that my life was about to change in every way. Overseas, my job was to build a small dam and people traveled hours to gather water. The water made them sick and there were many nights you could hear drums of mourning in a nearby village to indicate a child had died. These deaths were most often the result of waterborne illness. That experience changed everything and my journey with WaterStep began there in Africa in 1983.
When we got married, Marcia and I wanted to build a life helping people. We loved missions and young people. We wanted to become foster parents and become deeply engrossed in an amazing community of relationships in Louisville, KY. Our early years were difficult. Both headstrong, it took some years to learn to live and work together. Looking back, WaterStep began long before we were married. As a matter of fact, WaterStep was beginning in the lives of WaterStep Nation long before the organization officially opened in 1995.
I was a youth minister at the church we attended. The young people were incredible, the church supportive and all around us was a community excited to be with teenagers, help people in the community and gather for worship services each month all over Louisville. There were hundreds and sometimes thousands coming together.
As a graphic designer, Marcia knew the value of communicating a recognizable brand from the start. She developed a talent for presenting messages in a clear, concise, compelling and attractive manner. WaterStep’s ability to communicate effectively is the single most important aspect of our work. If it can’t be told, it can’t be known. If it can’t be heard, it can’t be embraced. Today, years later, our friends from Marcia’s advertising days still invest in WaterStep’s story designing print, social media, web communication and brand identity to better convey this story from our international headquarters.
The WaterStep dream began in a little office at the church with a parachute for a ceiling. It grew and moved to a free office at a building in a dark basement by the airport. Then, another address the size of two closets with windows. We moved again so we could train more effectively and expand, renting part of a warehouse, a few offices and a conference room. In 2012, WaterStep was able to purchase and remodel our current home, a 36,000 square foot building with strong bones.
Beginning an organization is a delicate affair. Each step can feel like tripping onto a frozen lake in spring. WaterStep has been surreal, but we’ve never been alone. This clan of people has spent decades in a physical, mental and spiritual pirouette between the dreaming and the coming true. It’s a wonderful surprise for all of us to look back on a horizon that is decades old. Our focus, however, must remain on the sun rising the next day.
What’s it like to be a part of something you hadn’t been able to imagine before? I speak for WaterStep Nation’s growing, global network when I say – you stand in amazement and inspiration.
The atmosphere is exhilarating! New connections, long relationships, video conferences, opposition, challenges, visits, disappointment, prayer, volunteers, research, fear, development, trainings, loss, stories, old friends, funding, youth involvement and the vision of legacy surprise us again and again.
Marcia and I believe there’s something divine and holy about just that act alone; the gift of safe water. This vision has infused every crack and crevice of our lives. God has blessed and allowed us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Just being thankful doesn’t seem enough. We pray for more!
Mark and Marcia Hogg, Cofounders