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Weddington High School graduates already changing the world

Weddington High School Graduates Nathan Benn, Matthew Hrycyna, Michael Drewery and classmate Garrett Rhyne (left to right) on graduation day. Since middle school, the four students have worked to raise money to send LifeStraws to developing nations. They have raised funds to help people in need for numerous projects.

What started as a project to impress colleges turned into a mission for three Weddington High School graduates. 

Nate Benn, Michael Drewery and Matthew Hrycyna, all Weddington graduates, were involved in an eighth-grade project where the teacher wanted them to research places that would benefit from receiving Lifestraws. 

LifeStraws, made by the Swedish company Vestergaard, is a personal water filter that allows the user to turn contaminated water into safe drinking water. The straw filters out bacteria and protozoa for up to 1,000 liters (264 gallons). It filters out about 99.99 percent of bacteria and about 99.9 percent of protozoa, according to the company website.

Two eighth-grade teachers at Weddington Middle were the impetus behind the project. Science teacher Nancy H. Zimmerman and social studies teacher Erin Elliott wanted students to learn about areas of the world that had unclean water.

Zimmerman said the school raised a total of $3,957 as a team and partnered with a Rotary club in Florida, allowing them to purchase about 150 of the family units to be sent to Uganda.

“This was an incredible project, and the parents and students of the WHS class of 2015 were very instrumental in raising these funds,” Zimmerman said. “I am very pleased that the boys continued this.”  

Benn said in an interview that they were able to send about 100 straws to Uganda. Since the beginning, he, Drewery and Hrycyna have raised about $8,000, which they give to Vestergaard to distribute among their water projects.  

Benn said that after the eighth-grade project they decided “we want to impact the world beyond our backyard” and started going door-to-door to raise funds to help people in developing nations have access to safe, clean drinking water. 

Though they are all off to college, Benn said they have recruited other students to continue the project. In particular, they plan to organize penny war fundraisers at Weddington Middle School and hopefully other middle schools in the county.

Once they saw the pictures of children in Uganda after receiving LifeStraws, Benn said it became more than a college project. 

He said at that point they wanted to impact the world around them and help people once they saw how happy the people in the photos were about getting their LifeStraws. 

Zimmerman said her students seem to have embraced the project and have been very generous because “they realize how blessed we are to have the water treatment systems we have in our country.”

Benn, Drewery and Hrycyna are on the board of the nonprofit Seedlings of Change. Benn serves as chief operating officer, while Drewery and Hrycyna serve as youth advisers.

Seedlings of Change was founded in 2009 and works to “educate and support ordinary people, community groups and small organizations efforts to take action for the public good, to bring community together creating changes that will provide scale and sustainability,” according to the organization’s website.

Benn said that he plans to be involved with Seedlings of Change for a long time, even as he leaves for college. 

Drewery and Benn are attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Hrycyna is attending North Carolina State University. Benn said he plans to study to become a neurosurgeon. 

Benn said he is always looking for new opportunities and different causes to help and will continue his efforts in college. 

Written by: Carolyn Steeves, Enquirer Journal education reporter; and Deb Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Jun 18, 2015 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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