Years later, pals unite in goal to help rural village

Justin Futrell and Mitchel Gearhart met in gym class in kindergarten at Putnam Elementary School.

“We were the two in the back of the line when we were running laps,” Futrell laughed.

Not only are the two Marietta natives still friends but they’ve teamed up together to raise $25,000 to construct a well in a rural village in Tanzania, where 63 percent of communities don’t have access to clean water and residents spend an average of three to five hours a day searching for water.

Last fall, Futrell and Gearhart kicked off their campaign with a bid to do 1,000 pull-ups in a day in exchange for donations.

Today, said Futrell, they’re nearing their goal.

Question: How long have you been working to raise this $25,000?

Answer: Nov. 17 was the day of the pull-ups. That’s when it started. It just got a little re-burst of energy recently when a couple of friends made a really cool video about it.

Q: How did you end up doing with the pull-ups?

A: We each did 1,000 pull-ups that day and we’re up to $21,000.

Q: You spent some time in Tanzania, right? That’s what inspired you to do this?

A: I had a chance to study abroad in Tanzania when I was in college, in 2016.

Q: What was your experience like? What were the highlights? Did being there change your perspective on anything?

A: The highlight was just having the opportunity to experience a completely different world, what feels like a completely world. I got a chance to understand how other people live and their perspectives.

What really changed my perspective…there was a moment I had that was a gut punch. We were visiting a well that had been put in and it was a super awesome experience. We were in the middle of nowhere, in rural Africa, and this little boy ran up with an empty jug, filled it with water and ran off. We were walking back to our jeeps and about 100 yards away a mother was there filling her bucket with water from a puddle, where coats and goats were laying. It made us realize that just because someone wants to do good and put a well in, there has to be education behind it as well. The boy went to the well without thinking about it. The mother has been using puddle water to bathe and cook her whole life. She’ll continue to do that unless she understands why that needs to change.

Q: Did you know right away that you wanted to do something to help?

A: I did, but I didn’t know it would be this soon. The founder of the Tanzania Water Fund who was there with us and had started the nonprofit, was a retired guy from Phoenix. At first I thought, when I get to that age, it would be a cool thing to do to give back.

I wanted to do this a year ago and then was afraid of failing. But it ate at me for a year, and then thankfully Mitchel Gearhart, another Marietta guy, said he would help and he got on board with me. He didn’t get to go to Africa with me so he didn’t have that experience but he just jumped right in and wanted to do it.

Q: What’s the response been to your efforts?

A: Overwhelming. We’ve gotten so much support and encouragement, whether it’s giving money or words of kindness and thoughts and prayers. It’s been awesome to see so many people come together.

Q: Do you think a project like this is something you’d want to do again?

A: I’ve been so focused on hitting this goal that I haven’t even been able to think that far ahead.

Q: What exactly will the $25,000 fund?

A: It will fund the construction of a well in the village of Kinyeto, Tanzania. It’s a village with 4,560 people and 740 households. (Worldserve International) calculated how many labor hours having that well there will save women and children, who are the ones out searching for water. It’s 810,300 labor hours a year that will be saved because they won’t be spending time getting water from neighboring villages. When I was there, we would see kids in class in some villages and in other villages the kids would be out wandering around, with jugs in their hands. If they’re out looking for water, they’re not in school.

Q: Does some of the money also go to the education piece that you mentioned?

A: Yes. It takes about $20,000 to drill the well and another $5,000 goes to a maintenance and education piece. They contract with a person to educate the villagers and for maintenance. When they first started putting in the wells, they would find that the wells would break down and no one knew how to fix them, so they started hiring someone for the region. The other part of that is putting in solar panels so they’re using renewable energy.

Q: What’s it feel like to know that what you’re doing will make such a difference in the lives of the people who live in this village?

A: I’m just a facilitator of it. I couldn’t have done it without hundreds of people giving money and support.

Kate York conducted this interview.

How to give:

¯ Send donations to Justin Futrell at 515 Second Ave. SW, Apt. 405, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 52404.

¯ Give through Facebook at

¯ More information and a video about the project can also be found on the Facebook page.

Source: Justin Futrell.

Justin Futrell

¯ Age: 24.

¯ Hometown: Marietta.

¯ Residence: Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

¯ Occupation: Benefit advisor for TrueNorth Companies.

¯ Education: 2012 Marietta High School graduate; Bachelors degree in Economics/Business from Cornell College.

¯ Family: Parents Les and Terri, of Marietta; Sisters Jordan and Amy; Brother Gabe.

Source: Justin Futrell.