When Rob Griffith stands in front of a middle school classroom in an inner-city school in southern California, he sees kids eager to learn when the lessons are interactive and fun. He also sees a bit of himself.
Rob, a zone sales development manager for Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) in south Orange County, says that he can relate to students facing life challenges that can impact their school performance.
“I grew up as a child in need, in a low-income area, with a single parent,” Rob explains. “As a result, one of my personal goals in life is to give back where I can."
After joining NWNA about a year ago, Rob looked for ways to get involved in the community through the company and soon heard about the longtime relationship between NWNA and the Project WET Foundation.
“My manager, Jennifer Dunbar, told me about Project WET,” Rob says. “She had been trained to use Project WET as part of Nestlé’s commitment to community involvement through water education and told me how to get in touch with Project WET to get trained.”
In February, Project WET USA Senior Program Manager Julia Beck and Publications Manager Megan Regnerus traveled to southern California to train Rob and two dozen other volunteers. After completing training, Rob and one of his sales managers, Richard Cardenas, jumped in with both feet, finding classrooms and other venues in which to share interactive water education with students and continually seeking out new opportunities to teach about water.
“Richard has been doing all of this with me. It helps to have a partner,” Rob says, adding that Richard’s wife works in inner-city schools, which has helped them reach schools where resources are low and challenges are high.
“I primarily target middle schools in lower-income areas because there can be a lack of resources and volunteers in those schools,” Rob says. “The students we have met get super excited when they see us walk in to the room with the blow-up globe and the big blue water kit. You should see the smiles and the way their faces light up! I love the fact that they’re learning and are so happy to see a positive role model to inspire them.”
In addition to teaching in classrooms, Rob has also helped nurture an innovative partnership with local law enforcement to incorporate water education into community events.
“An employee in our Colton branch has kids who attend elementary school there, and in that school, there is a team of police officers with a focus on community involvement and children,” he says. “I was working a Project WET event at another school, and that Colton employee asked if I would be interested in bringing water education to police-sponsored career day events at his child’s school.”
Sponsored by the Colton and Rialto police departments, these events provide life counseling and guidance to low-income schools with limited resources.
“This Colton employee gave me the name of a police officer who was interested in partnering up to link their events with water education. As a result, that police department has invited us to more community-based events, allowing us to reach more kids with water education,” Rob explains.
Rob says that the interactivity of Project WET is key to making the lessons effective in these educational environments, where some kids are dealing with serious challenges.
“We see some children with mental health issues or with parents who have drug issues; there are kids who are facing homelessness…basically, there can be a number of different challenges that can make it difficult for some kids to stay engaged,” he notes.
“Project WET really allows me to teach kids in a way that they have fun learning,” Rob says. “That’s what I love about the program. I’m not just talking to them or showing them slides. They get to stand up, throw the globe around, make bracelets to learn the water cycle, you name it. We’re often limited on time, but even with just one activity, kids get really excited. They want to participate however they can.”
Rob says that bringing Project WET into the schools as an employee of NWNA is another way to relate to kids.
“When I go into a school and say proudly that I’m from Nestlé Pure Life, or ReadyRefresh, or Arrowhead, I specifically call that out for a reason,” he says. “What I find is that 70 to 80 percent of these kids will chime in that their mom buys Arrowhead, or their grandpa loves Pure Life. It's just one more way to show what we have in common.”
Rob and the other NWNA employee-volunteers that he works with show no signs of slowing down their commitment to giving back and teaching about water. “We’re working to get as much communication out there as we can, letting people know that we have volunteers available to teach kids about water,” he says.
For his part, Rob said he would love to visit an inner-city school each week if he had time.
“I’m just one guy, but I want to do as much as possible,” he concludes. “I was that kid at one point. I have an extra layer of understanding. That’s what drives me.”