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Paper dolls: Building critical water access through origami

They aren’t even old enough to drive, but Isabelle and Katherine Adams already are successful entrepreneurs. In 2011, the sisters, who are now 12 and 9 years old, respectively, founded Paper For Water, a nonprofit that sells origami ornaments and uses the proceeds to build water wells in developing countries.

“We were just kind of looking through those catalogues with different charities,” Isabelle explains. “We came across the need for water but didn’t know much about it.”

The girls enlisted their parents to help research the issue, because they “were really little at the time — 5 and 8.” When the Adams sisters discovered children in other parts of the world often miss school in order to haul water, they wanted to help.

“We were just planning on doing a [one night] fundraiser,” Isabelle says, clearly surprised business took off the way it did. “We way overshot our first goal of $500. We raised $800. We thought, ‘Maybe we can fund an entire well [by raising $10,000]’.… Then we funded two more wells, and then three more, and then it just got bigger and bigger.”

Since its inception, Paper For Water has raised nearly $700,000 and erected more than 90 wells in places like Ethiopia, Liberia, Ghana, Kenya and Mexico. In 2017, the girls plan to travel the world, visiting the sites where their wells stand and interacting with the people their charity has helped.

When the Adams sisters discovered children in other parts of the world often miss school in order to haul water, they wanted to help.
But for now they spend a lot of time in our neighborhood. The sisters regularly invite their classmates to “folding parties” at their home in East Dallas. At the get-togethers, they provide snacks and teach their friends the art of origami, which they learned from their father. Katherine is in fourth grade, takes Latin and enjoys music, nature studies and art. Isabelle is in sixth grade, also studies Latin, and likes “almost everything except for English and math.” Both sisters enjoy riding horses in their free time, which is becoming increasingly scarce as their fundraising enterprise continues to grow.

“Lately we’ve been getting really, really busy,” Isabelle says. “It was too much for us to handle ourselves. We needed someone to help with the paperwork.”

They recently posted an advertisement on their website for an executive director and had no shortage of applicants.

“You had to do a video interview and then a face-to-face,” Katherine explains. “We watched, like, 20 videos.”

The girls eventually selected Jeff Miracle, a man with oodles of nonprofit experience.

“He worked at the Salvation Army for 19 or 20 years,” Isabelle says. “And then he worked for the American Lung Association.”

The Adams sisters had the final say on who got the job, but they sought advisement from their board of directors, a group composed of their dad’s close friends and people they’ve “met along this journey.”

The girls are full of enthusiasm for Paper For Water and have no plans to abandon the project, but they are nevertheless forward thinking.

“We might have to go to college or something,” Katherine says. “We have a little sister. She might be able to take over for us. Right now she is 5 … She’s kind of interested in origami but after five minutes, she’s like, ‘OK, Mommy, got to go play.’ I don’t know. It might not work out.”


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By |2015-11-19T10:37:18-05:00November 19th, 2015|All Magazine Articles, Launch|3 Comments

About the Author:

Elizabeth Barbee
Elizabeth Barbee is a contributing reporter.