Blog Archive

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Pursue a passion: One person can make a big difference

Tyler Cronk, Supervisor
Minneapolis, MN
Being a night owl can change lives. Just ask Supervisor Tyler Cronk, Minneapolis, whose nocturnal habits led to an adventure that would forever change his life—and the lives of others.

Up late watching TV one night in August 2014, Tyler saw a CNN Heroes segment about Doc Hendley, founder of Wine To Water, an organization dedicated to providing clean water worldwide in sustainable and repeatable ways. As he watched, Tyler was struck by the difference just one person could make.

"I first noticed what a great storyteller Doc Hendley was, and then I became fascinated by his story," said Tyler. "He had been working as a bartender when he learned about a group of people in Darfur without access to clean water. So he threw a party at his bar, and attempted to donate the proceeds to an organization he thought could help. The organization actually gave the money back and suggested that he could do a better job than they could in working to solve the issue."

It was at that point that Hendley had an epiphany. He moved to Africa to learn how to purify water and set up an organization that could give people access to clean water, and started Wine To Water, a non-profit that has provided clean water to more than 400,000 people in 24 countries since 2009.

"I thought, here's a guy who was working as a bartender and then went on to make a huge difference," Tyler recalled. "I asked myself what I was now going to do to make an impact."

Just a week before, Tyler had heard about RSM's Pursue Your Passion opportunity. Through Pursue Your Passion, three recipients would each receive $2,500 and five additional PTO days to realize their dream.

"I thought, no way, this is more than a coincidence," he said. "And, I decided that if our firm was going so far as to say, this is important enough that we will back you, I needed to put down my deposit with Wine To Water and apply for the program."

Bringing water to those in need
As one of three Pursue Your Passion winners, Tyler went to Nepal with a Wine To Water team in September 2015. The area had poor access to water, and a 7.8 earthquake in April 2015, and its subsequent aftershocks, had damaged the area's aquifers and infrastructure even more, leaving many without clean water.

Wine To Water provided financial support for the region immediately following the earthquake and sent water filters, chlorine tablets and sanitation products to clean the water supply. And it was up to Tyler's team to ensure the filters were being used properly. While that task at first didn't sound important or exciting, it turned out that, in many cases, villagers weren't using the filters correctly, if at all, instead relying on rations of one liter of water per person per week for drinking and bathing.

"The problem was that the villagers didn't trust the guy who was dropping off the filters," said Tyler. "And since unclean water can lead to disease and death, the villagers weren't taking any chances. So, we showed them how to use the filters correctly and how to clean them properly. And, when they didn't trust us, we drank the water ourselves to show them it was safe." Doing so meant the difference between good health and illness or even death for many.

"Using the filters provides the villagers with access to an unlimited, continuous water stream from a spring," said Tyler. "The feeling of helping to make that available to them is something I'll never forget."

Tyler's team also built a rainwater harvest system for a school and helped dig out a school and homes destroyed by the earthquake. Since many people build their homes on top of their businesses—sometimes four stories stacked above a small main floor—the destruction and death tolls following the earthquake were significant, and rebuilding is still an arduous process.

"These people are trying to earn money to put food on the table, living day-to-day. So it's difficult for them to work on their damaged or destroyed homes on top of that," he said. "In one case, we were working with a local team for two to three hours before we realized that what we were digging out was the home of a man working alongside us. That was very emotional. To top it off, it was monsoon season, so we had to end our work early, leaving the man and his home behind. That was our group's low point. The next day, a few of us snuck back to finish the job for him."

A different outlook
Tyler's time pursuing his passion changed his perspective about life—and about work.

"I had heard of Kathmandu and Nepal. But I never associated it with people who don't have clean water, or understood all of the challenges and inconveniences that presents for them," he said. "Having clean drinking water is an even more immediate need than food and housing. If you go a few days without water, that's a big problem. Doc Hendley has a quote about his inability to eradicate the water crisis on his own. He says his work is a drop in the bucket. But if he hadn't started Wine To Water, we'd be nowhere. Hundreds of thousands of people are affected by the water crisis, and I'm happy to have made a contribution toward solving it."

Tyler says the trip also helped him get his own priorities in order.

"I met people from all walks of life, including the wonderful and grateful people of Nepal. It gave me new things to think about and talk about," he said. "Plus, it gave me a lot of time to think about my own life. I looked at how I spend my time and realized my 'priorities' and actions were out of alignment."

For Tyler, a program like Pursue Your Passion builds personal integrity as well as employee loyalty.

"My friends and family said they had never heard of a company doing something like this—something that doesn't directly contribute to the bottom line," he said. "It shows that my firm understands people have things they want to do outside of work. And just because you earn a salary and have PTO, it doesn't make it easy to do those things. This program made it possible. And providing an avenue for an employee to become a better person is a remarkable thing."

Tyler, center, with other members of the Wine To Water team.

Tyler and a Wine To Water teammate with students at a
school where the team built a rainwater harvest system.