LFHS Grad Promotes 'Well Being' Project to Meet Clean Water Goal
Paired with the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Rotary, Connor Kenehan’s project has raised thousands and built two wells.
“Clean water is among a short list of the most basic human needs. Without clean water, almost everything else does not matter,” writes Connor Kenehan, who began his clean water initiative, "Well Being", as an eighth grade service project at Deer Path Middle School.
Students in Kenehan’s English class worked in groups to create solutions to humanitarian issues. Kenehan and two friends chose to focus on developing clean water sources for impoverished communities around the world.
“There’s a level of passion behind (Well Being),” Kenehan said. “I live 10 to 15 minutes from Lake Michigan. Access to clean water is never an issue here.”
“But even as close as Deerfield, (where Kenehan lived until the fourth grade), there were days the drinking water was undrinkable," he added. "I remember my mom telling us not to drink from the tap certain days, or times the water tasted like metal. It’s an issue that we don’t usually pay attention to in this town because we take it for granted.”
The middle schoolers set up a table outside of Egg Harbor Café to talk to people about the issue. “We brought up the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Rotary Club, and a Rotarian happened to come by. He said, ‘Why don’t you come to a meeting and present your project?'”
They did, beginning a partnership that has resulted in thousands of dollars raised to build clean water wells in two African provinces, Lagos and Ogun.
“[The Rotary] has been a really big help in creating awareness,” said Kenehan. His father, Robert Kenehan, became a Rotarian during Connor’s freshman year at Lake Forest High School in order to take part in the Rotary’s exchange programs, and is currently the Rotary’s Youth Exchange officer.
“The legitimacy [of Well Being] has only been building since middle school,” Connor Kenehan said.
He spent considerable time in high school developing contacts and figuring out goals. Along the way, he discovered the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group (WASRAG), which provides a grant search engine.
“I wouldn’t be able to get anything done without the Rotary and WASRAG because I’m only 18 and I don’t know people in Africa,” he said with a laugh.
Kenehan also spent time recruiting Deer Path Middle School students to continue the project. He presented his project to the Deer Path Middle School Service Club, which decides on the project they will support with a walk-a-thon each year. In his presentation, Kenehan brought in a five gallon water bottle as a visual aid.
“I explained that the five gallon bottle of water is the equivalent of 2.5 minutes in the shower, or three toilet flushes,” he said. “Then I told them that a child dies every 20 seconds of unclean water-related disease. I could see them counting down 20 seconds after that. They were pretty shocked.”
The DPMS walk-a-thon raised $2,500 for Well Being this year, and the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Rotary Club recently matched that amount with a check presentation at a June meeting.
Kenehan graduated from LFHS in June, and is preparing to depart for John Hopkins University in Maryland. He would love to see the wells in Lagos and Ogun someday.
“It would be great to get out there in a community my wells have affected,” said Connor, who plans to major in International Studies. “I’m also interested in public health and the ways sanitation affect our community."
He admitted it wasn’t always easy sticking with "Well Being" during high school, especially while balancing lacrosse, theater, the debate team and environmental club. “There were times I was frustrated with that kind of schedule, but my mom has always encouraged me to keep up with everythig I’m interested in,”he said.
Kenehan also had some help from his dad for the "Well Being" name and logo. “My dad is the master of all things punny,” he said. He hopes his younger brother and sister, Carter and Riley, will help continue "Well Being".
In the meantime, Kenehan has recruited family friend and DPMS seventh grader Drew Arnson to continue the work he started when he’s left for college.
“He’s more motivated as a seventh grader than a lot of kids I know,” Kenehan said. “He has a lot to teach me about getting things done on a schedule.”
Through "Well Being", the two have developed a mentorship bond.
“I was impressed by his initiative to do something,” said Arnson, 12. “It was neat how he took this idea and expanded it into a charity.”
Arnson said he will contribute by putting together fundraisers, such as a car wash, while Carter Kenehan handles the day-to-day operations.
“(Well Being) means a lot to me because I got to help my friend and tons of others, to make their lives significantly better and possibly save lives,” said Arnson. “I thought it was important to help out with a basic need.”
As for starting a non-profit someday, Kenehan said he’ll cross that bridge when he gets to it. For now, more than anything he wants to travel and experience other cultures.
“If you have a passion, there’s no reason in the world you shouldn’t chase it down," he said. "When I started off as just an eighth grader thinking, ‘this upsets me that people don’t have access to clean water,’ I never thought it would lead me here. Chase whatever you’re passionate about, because if you work hard enough, you’ll get somewhere.”