Nine-year-old Jake Zerden of Rolling Hills Primary School reminds us that young minds can make extraordinary things happen! With a determined and magnanimous spirit, Jake is leading a tremendous fundraising effort to restore health and instill hope for men, women and children in need. The online fundraiser, entitled, “You Can Make a Difference”—aptly named by the third grader himself—supports the installation of water wells that will bring safe, clean water to the people of Sierra Leone.

An impoverished country along Africa’s northwestern shores, Sierra Leone struggles to combat the pollution-induced global water crisis that is devastating the country, preventing over two million residents from accessing clean water. A dry season that endures for several months further exacerbates the crisis, wreaking havoc upon the nation’s troubled economy and leaving its lands severely parched. Stricken by the repercussions of this mass water deprivation, the people of Sierra Leone face disease, malnutrition, and other life-threatening circumstances caused by poor hygiene and sanitation.

Jake first learned about the Sierra Leone water crisis during a global awareness lesson in Mrs. Ukson’s third grade Social Studies class, where the urgency for worldwide support became apparent. Mrs. Ukson drew the students’ attention to existing fundraisers that support the cause, and recognized the positive impact that this philanthropy gives to people in need.

A few weeks later, Jake found himself thinking about the water crisis, once again. Following a church service, Jake and his pastor discussed the humanitarian efforts of Justin Wren, a famous mixed martial artist turned philanthropist. Wren had established a fundraising website, through an affiliate page of Water4.org, in an effort to bring clean water back to Sierra Leone. Amazed by the coincidence and intrigued by the power of philanthropy, young Jake decided to start a fundraising campaign of his own.

Now, as founder of the Water4.org’s “You Can Make a Difference” chapter, Jake has created a nonprofit fundraising campaign from the ground up and is well on his way to reaching his $4,000 goal. For every $2,250 raised, Jake’s fundraiser will be able to build one water well for Sierra Leone that can provide relief for thousands of the country’s citizens. Together, with the support of his brothers, William and Mason; Jake manages and updates the crowdfunded website: https://www.water4.org/4/Youcanmakeadifference and has raised over three thousand dollars, so far.

The first donation given to the fundraiser came from Jake’s very own pocket—funds collected from snow shoveling and other chores around his neighborhood. Mr. Zerden, Jake’s father, stated, “When Jake wants something done, he keeps at it, until he gets it done.” Goal-oriented, Jake is not afraid of challenges; in fact, he seeks them out. A top youth wrestler in the state and an avid learner in the classroom, Jake enjoys setting goals and works hard to achieve them. He is in constant pursuit of bettering himself, as a student, an athlete and a generous nine-year-old boy. “His heart is huge,” said his mom, proudly.


Impressed with Jake’s motivation and generosity, the Vernon Township School District administration honored the third grader’s commendable efforts on Wednesday, March 29,, 2017.  Assistant Superintendent Dr. Charles McKay and Rolling Hills Primary School Principal Dr. Stuart Stumper­ presented Jake with the district’s first Student Humanitarian Award. Modest about getting his photograph taken, Jake expressed his wish to spread awareness of the cause and to encourage more people to donate. Most concerned with the plight that confronts the children of Sierra Leone, Jake is determined to initiate change and to help these children live a healthy life.

His philanthropic spirit is profound—not just for a young student, but for a person of any age. Jake’s altruism stands as a reflection of his character, and provokes us to look within ourselves and to reassess our own priorities. If you would like to participate in this worthy cause, please visit https://www.water4.org/4/Youcanmakeadifference and lend your support, today. One hundred percent of all proceeds go directly to the cause and support the construction of water wells within Sierra Leone.

Every penny counts and every contribution makes a difference. It is imperative that we sustain these fundraising efforts and prevent these wells from running dry.