Students team up to help communities in need

Anna Lawson

When Elizabethtown sophomore Kennedy Morillo and Indianapolis junior Ashley Vaughn realized the water crises in Flint, Michigan, was still not resolved after two years, they decided they needed to help. Vaughn proposed they collect money for Flint.

“I hear a lot of people talking about how much they want to help, but people weren’t doing anything,” Vaughn said. “I decided to do it on my own because we really wanted to be active about the cause.”

“I was just like, ‘let’s do this,’” Morillo said. “I don’t even care, let’s just figure it out.”

Flint is located 70 miles north of Detroit and about 41.2 percent of residents live below the poverty line. African Americans make up 56.6 of the city, according to the United States Census Bureau. In 2014, the city changed its water sources and began using the Flint River as its primary source. Lead from old service lines began contaminating the water supply later that year.

In February of this year the Michigan Civil Rights Commission gave a report entitled “The Flint Water Crisis: Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flint.” The report states that “the current state of civil rights laws appear inadequate to address the root of this crisis.”

“People are forgetting,” Morillo said. “Just like everything that happens in America. It’s not a trend, these things don’t go away. They’re still here, there are still problems that are faced every single day.”

Morillo and Vaughn are passionate about helping communities like Flint. They posted fliers, and a week later took to the streets to collect money for water bottles as well as funds to rebuild the pipelines.

“It’s a way bigger picture than just water bottles; it’s so much more,” Morillo said.

They decided walking around with a jar and a sign would be most effective. Morillo said doing this really put things into perspective.

“Getting donations is really hard,” Morillo said. “I noticed that the people donating were around my age. That definitely threw me off.”

Morillo said her generation can be somewhat naive when it gets behind a cause.

“We want to help so much that we don’t know what we’re donating to,” Morillo said. “It’s very sweet and innocent.”

This was both Vaughn and Morillo’s first time doing something like this, and they both said it was difficult.

“It was a little scary at first because not all college kids have money,” Vaughn said. “A lot of people started giving, though, and then it started taking off.”

“We all deserve our rights, and we all deserve to live happy, healthy lives,” Vaughn said.

In one hour they had collected around $35. Morillo said she has gotten lots of responses from people wanting to do what they can to help.

They want to be devoted to more things than just Flint. In the future, Morillo hopes the group could grow into a fundraising team for all human rights.

“You just need people, a sign, and a mason jar. It’s as simple as that,” Morillo said.

Through the process, Vaughn learned that being independent and proactive can take you pretty far.

“I learned that if you want to make a difference and make a change you have to go out and do it yourself, because no one will do it for you,” Vaughn said.

Morillo said it isn’t about the money, but rather word of mouth.

“Money is money,” Morillo said. “If somebody knows about something they can easily go tell someone else about it. Spreading the word about things is really important.”

Vaughn said she agrees that something needs to be done, and awareness needs to be spread.

“No one is really doing anything to make a difference,” Vaughn said. “We want to give a voice to the smaller communities.”

Vaughn said people need to be aware that this issue goes beyond the town of Flint.

“Anything can happen, anywhere,” she said. “If enough people are doing it, it can really change something.

Morillo recently changed her minor to social justice and citizenship because of her passion for helping others.

“I take a lot of people’s burdens onto my back because of how much I care about people,” Morillo said. “I just love people.”

This is why she and Vaughn are so passionate about every community they can help.

“We want to do so much more but there is only so much time you have when you’re in college,” Morillo said. “We just do what we can, and as long as we’re trying the outcome is usually pretty rewarding.”

Vaughn said all it takes is two passionate people, and anything can happen.

Reporter Anna Lawson can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected]