PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #1 from Newark Water Association

Each year, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards $5,000 seed grants to fund the launch or early-stage growth of a project, program, or venture. Newark Water Association — a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by Vin Henrich ’23 — was one of this year’s winners. Below is the first of Newark Water Association’s three reports.

My name is Vincent Henrich and I am the founder and CEO of Newark Water Association, a nonprofit designed to support residents of Newark NJ throughout the current lead water crisis. I am also a rising Junior here at Wes, a member of the Football Team, and one of the 3 winners of the 2021 Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship Seed Grant.

Before I get into Newark Water Association’s plan for the summer of 2021, I would like to give you all a brief background on the Water Crisis in America and why I started Newark Water Association.

What is water? For most of us water is an ordinary part of life. We drink water every day and we probably learned at some point in middle school that water makes up almost 3/4ths of our bodies. Besides that, we probably think of water as a place where we swim, either in a lake, pool, or ocean.

Let me ask again. What is water? For some, water is a means of survival. Ok yes, I’m sure you knew that. We need water to survive, also a middle school fact, but have you ever needed water to survive? Have you ever been thirsty? I don’t mean thirsty after going for a run. I mean thirsty thirsty. Like a few days without water type of thirsty. My guess is probably not.

You see, in America we are lucky. This is the golden land where miracles come to life. We don’t have to worry about little things like water. Most of us don’t even think of how important water is for our survival. The only time when we do is when we see commercials on the tv of other nonprofits asking for donations for kids in developing countries whose only source of water is a creek miles away…if they are lucky.

I bet you didn’t know that due to a combination of population growth and lead service lines in America, this country’s water infrastructure is failing, resulting in clean water scarcity which creates huge health, financial, and environmental risks. According to a report by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “77 million people—roughly a quarter of the U.S. population—spread across all 50 states were served by water systems reporting violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2015”. It is safe to say that America is heading down a long hard road when it comes to reconstructing its water infrastructure. One of the key factors to this failing system is the infiltration of lead service lines in this nation. Throughout the 18th-20th centuries in America, lead service lines were used as the common and most popular product for underground plumbing. It wasn’t until the Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988 when the installation of lead service lines was banned. The reality is that America has been built on a foundation of lead, and the only way to fix the problem is to replace the lead service lines entirely. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), “It is estimated that there are between 6 to 10 million lead service lines in the country.”

Lead is not the only problem when it comes to water in the United States. The Environmental Working Group conducted a study of 20 million tap water test, finding a total of 316 contaminants and of the 316 pollutants the U.S. EPA only regulates 114. Even if regulations become stricter, finding funding to support water projects across the nation has clearly taken a backseat. Unfortunately, the health of hardworking Americans has been swept aside as well. In fact, the longer we wait the worse the problem will become. In addition to poor funding and regulation, with a failing infrastructure and a steady stream of population growth, water scarcity also seems to be a major problem for the American public. BlackRock, notably known as the world’s largest asset manager has administered 84,000 global real estate investment trusts (REITs). BlackRock then used the World Resources Institute’s (WPI) “Aqueduct” model to asses REIT’s exposure to various water stress risks, proving that by 2030 water scarcity will double in the face of extremely high-water stress issues. It is important to recognize that as water demand exceeds supply, investment portfolios and the U.S. economy will struggle. Globally, residential and office use account for 30% of freshwater. The financial implications of water scarcity in the US and around the globe is estimated to quadruple by 2030 leaving the American people to pay once again.

Surprisingly enough, one of the places in America that has been affected by the Lead Water Crisis is a place where I once lived: Newark, New Jersey. From about 5-10 years old I lived in Newark with my father, little brother, and stepmom. My parents are divorced so I wasn’t in the public school system in Newark but for years I witnessed a way of life that certainly broadened my perspective on life.

Eventually my father moved the family to West Orange NJ about 5 miles away and I attended Seton Hall Prep for high school. Going back and forth between Old Bridge and Newark to The Prep, and eventually to Wesleyan, has allowed me to see all walks of life. I have to say that we are all lucky to be at this prestigious university.

So why did I start Newark Water Association? The idea came to me when I was taking a Winter acting course in December of 2019 at Rutgers Newark. After one of our classes my classmates and I were discussing the Lead Water Crisis that Newark was facing. For me this was the first time I heard of the issue and I couldn’t believe my ears. I never imagined America to be a place where people didn’t have access to clean water, never mind the city where I once lived.

My classmates told me that the City and County were doing an excellent job with their Lead Service line replacement program but the bottled water distribution had been abandoned. Therefore, the future was bright but the present was not. One girl told me how her and her family used bottled water for personal hygiene, cooking, and drinking. This obviously came at an extra expense, which she then explained many of her friends’ families could not afford. Boom! The idea hit me. I have to get water to these families.

Next thing you know we were all in a full fetched Pandemic and almost every kid in America was sent home from college. I finished the Spring Semester online and I thought now what? I can’t do anything, I can’t go anywhere, and it seems like the whole world is falling apart. So, what did I do? I founded Newark Water Association.

Jesse Itzler, a serial entrepreneur who I follow for inspiration on social media once said something along the lines of, “If an idea is constantly popping up in your head for a long period of time, the universe is telling you to act on it. Don’t ignore it.” For months I constantly thought of helping the community of Newark and I decided to act on it.

Why? Because I could. I knew deep down somewhere that I could do this. I wanted to help people and I had an idea of how to do so. Honestly if I didn’t try, I’d be ashamed of myself because I was that 5-year-old who lived in Newark that didn’t have a clue about the atrocities of the world.  After hearing about the Lead Water Crisis, every time I took a sip of clean water, I thought of another 5 year old, just as I once was, drinking contaminated water with the possibility of being negatively affected for the rest of their lives. I needed to do something about this. I made a commitment to myself and went in with the mindset that if I could get one water bottle to one kid and he/she lives one day longer in their life then what I’m doing is a success.

I also wanted to test myself. I am a young man who enjoys playing college football but when my days of athletics are over, I want to be one thing, a businessman. From the time I was 16 I’ve kept a book of what is now hundreds of ideas of different inventions/businesses that I want to start. Yet, being in school and playing football doesn’t give me a whole lot if time to pursue these ideas just yet. I am also not one who comes from an extraordinary wealthy family, but I can promise you that there is a lot of love in the Henrich household. I want to enjoy being young to doing the things I love and as Gary Vaynerchuck says, “Patience is key.”

I look at people like Jesse Itzler, Gary Vaynerchuk, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dwayne Johnson, Brad Lea etc. for inspiration and tips. While studying those who I look up to I’ve noticed that a lot of them give back. Many successful people have their own foundations, nonprofits, or simply give charitable donations which makes a lot of sense considering their wealth. 

I could’ve started a GoFundMe and cleaned my conscious but that wasn’t enough. I wanted to really make an impact at the best of my ability. I then thought about my life and my future and I thought wouldn’t it be pretty damn cool if I could start my career with helping people instead of ending that way. Yeah, 100 year old Vin would approve.

So, there you go. In May of 2020 I wrote the first business plan in my life and although it wasn’t easy, I enjoyed every moment of it. How did I do it? I simply connected the dots.

I needed a supplier so I partnered with Costco of East Hanover and negotiated a below wholesale rates for the bottled water. I needed funding so I started with friends and family and then partnered with Gallagher Financial Services Corp., The Kamson Corporation, and West Orange Rotary, The Harrison Avenue Tavern and more. I also needed a loading dock for the water so I partnered with NJIT and then Essex County. I needed a truck to transport the water so I partnered with the City of Newark for that. Lastly, I realized I couldn’t do this all by myself and I partnered with my old high school Seton Hall Prep because I knew the seniors there needed to complete their 25 hours of senior service.

All summer long I worked on building this Nonprofit from scratch and finally in August of 2020 I launched Newark Water Association by donating almost 40,000 bottles of water to The Brick City Lions Youth Football Organization that my little brother won the 14u Disney National Championship 2 years prior. This 8-team organization was supplied with water for the entire season! In October we had our daycare event where I picked out 25 daycares and gave them each 1,000 bottles of water that lasted them between 3-4 months. Along with donating the rest of the water to 4 different churches in Newark. Finally in December, after witnessing what we all saw across the country, I decided that it would be best to have a police outreach program to strengthen community ties between residents and law enforcement. We were able to give a case of water to nearly 2,000 residents. In total we have raised nearly 25,000 dollars and distributed over 115,000 bottles of water.

After much success it was time to return full time back to school and for the Spring Semester of 2021. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 rules restricted me from traveling off campus to New Jersey but I didn’t let that obstacle stop me from doing the work I love. Throughout the spring I competed for the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship Seed Grant. I was extremely excited that my summer pilot pitch impressed the judges enough to vote me as one of the winners, but honestly the entire process and support from the Patricelli Center was the most valuable. I met some special people and was able to have some very helpful conversations when planning for the future.

As for this summer we will be using the $5,000 seed grant for our Summer Pilot Program of Water Testing and Installing Reverse Osmosis Systems into the Newark Day Care Centers that we have worked with. After hours of research and phone call after phone call with many different reverse osmosis and water testing companies, Newark Water Association will be able to successfully begin to meet the temporary need. Unlike Faucet filters, reverse osmosis filters last 10-15 years. In order for a company to do business in the US, the CDC requires these systems to remove a minimum of 99.1% lead. The contaminated water will pass through 7 filters with separate all contaminants from the water. Filters are very cheap and can be easily replaced. Also, unlike faucet filters, hot and cold water can be filtered through. On top of that, the reverse osmosis systems consume zero energy and does not add any chemicals to the water.

With the support of this Seed Grant, Newark Water Association will be able to evolve to the next level. We have already found success in meeting the immediate need through our Bottled Water Projects. This grant is now allowing us to meet the temporary need as well, which is the more sustainable Reverse Osmosis systems. Eventually we hope to grow to meeting the permanent need of replacing lead service lines ourselves.

Again, this Seed Grant will be a huge help but we still need more support. Currently we only have enough funding to install reverse osmosis filters in 10 out of the 25 daycare centers that we are working with in Newark. If you feel passionate about “Saving lives one water bottle and filter at a time” then please donate here. Also check out our website and social media pages for more. Thank you!