Trailblazer: Kathrine & Isabelle Adams

Words by Rachel Ishee

Illustration by Jamison Harper

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On the minds of many five-year-olds are playing hide and seek, watching Disney Channel, and doing arts and crafts. But in 2011, five-year-old Katherine Adams and her sister Isabelle of Dallas, Texas, began thinking about so much more, leading them to become young CEOs of Paper for Water, an organization that has raised more than 1.5 million dollars to help bring clean water to those in need.

When Katherine was five, she learned how to fold origami from her dad. Around that same time the sisters also learned that a child dies every 15 seconds from drinking unclean water and that girls their age couldn’t go to school because they had to haul water all day. This didn’t sit right with them, so they decided to do something about it.

The pair started selling handmade origami ornaments, and by the end of that year they had raised over $10,000 and overfunded a water well project in Ethiopia. Seven years later, the organization has funded over 150 water wells for communities in need.

Now 15 and 12, Isabelle and Katherine juggle school, a social life, and being CEOs of a non-profit organization.

“It’s been a great opportunity for us to show adults that teenagers and kids can actually do something and that we don’t all sit around and play on a phone all day,” Isabelle said.

As the girls look ahead to the future, they have big plans for the organization.

“One of our goals is to continue to build our volunteers here in the U.S., as well as of course bringing more people clean water,” Katherine said. “I think at some point in the near future we’d like to have an office space or some sort of warehouse which would get Paper for Water out of our house.”

As for people their age who want to make a difference in the world but don’t know where to begin, they say the best thing to do is make those first tiny steps toward that big goal that might seem unattainable.

“A lot of people think through an elaborate business plan, and they get all the details planned out, but you just have to start,” Katherine said. “You don’t have to think through everything and get your plan perfect. You just need to start, and then you have to keep going and persevere.”

Those looking to be a part of Paper for Water can visit their website at paperforwater.org. The organization also has monthly folding events in Dallas to help produce the origami ornaments that fund the wells.