AHS student takes on charity well project

Published 8:07 am Thursday, January 13, 2011

Michael Lindahl's idea to donate money to charity: water culminated into an Austin High School fundraiser that raised $5,000 and a personal fundraiser at more than $2,300. - Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

As Michael Lindahl sat in the foyer of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Austin, Michael Olmsted, the church’s youth pastor, slipped him an envelope.

“Happy birthday, man,” Olmsted said.

Lindahl has plenty of reason to be happy. What started as a charity idea has morphed into two fundraisers to bring water to developing companies. Instead of accepting gifts this year, he’s asking people to donate to Charity: Water, a non-profit organization dedicated to giving people in developing countries clean drinking water.

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“If we were walking miles to get water in America, it’d be unheard of,” Lindahl said.

Lindahl first heard about Charity: Water last year. He knew he wanted to give money to the organization once he realized it built wells for people with no readily available drinking water.

The charity also documents which wells are built with donations of $5,000 or more, which is about the cost of building a well. Any money Charity: Water receives goes directly into well projects instead of the charity itself, according to Charity: Water’s website.

Around the same time, Lindahl learned about a new fundraising idea. He’d heard about people asking family and friends to donate money to causes for their birthday instead of buying presents. He immediately liked the idea.

Once he told his friends about it, his fellow high school students decided to make Charity: Water the official charity of Austin High School’s charity week fundraiser in December. Students from the National Honors Society, of which Lindahl is president; Student Council, of which Lindahl is a member; and the Diversity Club decided to band together to raise $5,000 over five days — enough for an AHS-sponsored well in a developing nation.

The student groups currently have about $4,500, but another $500 is expected to come from Student Council, which means AHS reached its goal.

Aside from AHS’s efforts, Lindahl followed through on his birthday fundraiser idea. Two weeks ago, Lindahl asked the congregation at Westminster Presbyterian, where his father is pastor, to help celebrate his birthday by donating money to charity. After his speech, he stood in the foyer hoping people would help him. He and his parents thought $1,800 would be a reasonable goal for his 18th birthday.

“When I started in November, I was like, ‘Mom, dad, what do you think about $5,000? Is that a little farfetched?’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah, maybe like $1,000,’” Lindahl said.

That first Sunday Lindahl received $800 for his cause. The following Sunday he received another $1,600, and along with donations throughout January, Lindahl has raised a little less than $3,200 on his own, and the donations keep coming.

“The church has been a really great benefactor for this mission,” Lindahl said.

Lindahl hopes to send in the money as soon as he gets the rest of the $5,000 he needs to have his own well built. AHS will do the same soon, too. It will take about 12 to 24 months for Charity: Water to provide information, including Google maps and other documentation, to both AHS and Lindahl about their wells. Until then, Lindahl and other AHS students will continue raising funds for charities they believe in.

“I’m just blown away by what the community has done and what the church has done,” Lindahl said.

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