University of Delaware
4-H member Emma Rider receives a 2014 national gold medal from the Jefferson Awards Foundation for her work to provide safe drinking water to people around the globe.

Jefferson Award

Delaware 4-H member Emma Rider presented Jefferson Award


1:03 p.m., Aug. 5, 2014--Emma Rider, a Delaware 4-H’er from Bridgeville who has worked to provide safe drinking water to people around the globe, was presented with a 2014 national gold medal from the Jefferson Awards Foundation for her participation in the Lead360 Challenge during a ceremony held June 17 in Washington, D.C. 

The Jefferson Awards Foundation is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious volunteer award organization and the Lead360 Challenge, for youth service, asked participants to use social media to elevate awareness of their local service platforms. 

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Rider’s project, “Quenching Soles,” began in 2010 when she was 12 years old. Inspired by her older brother Nathan’s mission effort with WaterStep, an organization aimed at saving lives through the provision of safe water, she was alerted to a critical need for water sanitation across the globe in remote communities. 

Learning that a child died every 10-15 seconds from a water-related disease and seeking to make a difference, Rider decided to start a shoe drive to raise funds for water purification systems that WaterStep installs in villages where the need is greatest. 

To date, according to the Jefferson Award press release, Rider’s initiative is directly responsible for at least 40 chlorinators with the potential to purify water for 400,000 people all over the world. 

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, who serves on the Jefferson Awards Board of Selectors, praised Rider for her efforts. “Young people like Emma Rider are an inspiration to their churches, schools, 4-H and communities as a whole,” said Coons. “I had the pleasure of recently hosting her in the Capitol and discussing her passion of caring for others, and was in awe of her efforts -- collecting over 80,000 pairs of shoes to raise enough money install three water purification systems in a Kenyan orphanage.”

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of Cooperative Extension and outreach, added, "Emma's work demonstrates the citizenship and leadership skills attained through 4-H, and all of Delaware Extension is pleased and proud to support this leadership initiative of Emma's."

Rider’s project was one of more than 5,000 submitted to the Jefferson Awards Foundation for consideration and was chosen as one of 27 finalists who were asked to turn to social media to spread the word about and get people to vote for their public service project.

Rider’s 4-H community eagerly stepped in, posting on Facebook, Twitter and wherever a link to her project on the Jefferson Awards website could be shared.

“The main idea was to see how many people we could reach,” Rider said. “Delaware 4-H definitely helped by sending emails to leaders and posting on social media. It was a whole new level of support.”

The award ceremony was streamed live, with Rider’s friends and supporters from 4-H grateful for a virtual seat at the ceremony as they waited for her name to be called. 

Jill Jackson, the Sussex County 4-H Extension agent and longtime family friend, said that her heart was pounding. “I knew she had this,” said Jackson. “Everyone was so excited for her. It was amazing to see how many people shared and viewed posts about the award.”

Rider credits 4-H for reinforcing a life dedicated to leadership and community service. “4-H has really made an impact. They are a part of who I am now and where this project has taken us,” she said.

Rider was one of five Delaware youth volunteers recognized by Gov. Jack Markell in 2011 and the Student Leadership Team at Sussex Technical High School presented her with a local Jefferson Award in January 2012 in recognition of her volunteerism. That same year Rider was a national finalist for the Prudential Spirit of Community Award. 

Rider’s work to collect shoes has averaged 20,000 pairs a year. The collected shoes are transported to WaterStep headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, where they are sold to exporters. The proceeds enable WaterStep to purchase water units that purify 10,000 gallons a day. Rider is just about ready to fill a fourth tractor-trailer full of sandals, clogs, sneakers, heels, pumps and boots.

To get the message out about her project, Rider navigated through her networks of family, church, school and local communities, which included 4-H clubs. She is a member of the Dublin Hill 4-H Club in Bridgeville, and is active in horticulture, archery and leadership projects. She especially credits her 4-H public speaking experience for helping her communicate.

Rider’s 4-H community has been with her from the beginning, watching as she first approached a 4-H lectern and passionately addressed the issue of water-borne illness. She has authored articles for the 4-H newsletter and motivated local 4-H clubs to set up collection sites. 4-H leaders continue to transport the collected shoes bags and cartons of gently used shoes to Rider’s home or the Sussex 4-H office.

During Rider’s recent mission trip to Kenya, she watched as three water chlorinators were put in operation. She directly taught Kenyans about health and personal hygiene, and was encouraged to see the knowledge passed on. Rider wants to return to deliver “water balls” -- a unique all-terrain water transport system that offers village women an alternative to the backbreaking task of carrying heavy containers on their heads or backs, often two to three times a day.

Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee said of the honor, “Emma is a great reflection of her parents and the legacy of her parents’ connection to agriculture. All of us in Delaware are proud of Emma.” Rider is the daughter of Lori and Dennis Ockels, and Rob and Sue Rider of Bridgeville.

As the national winner, Rider will attend Super Bowl 50 in Phoenix, Arizona. She plans to bring her brother Justin, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army currently serving in Afghanistan, along as her adult guest because “he is the football fan in the family.” 

Rider said she hopes she will gain national exposure to her cause – and make new connections, perhaps even with the NFL. “I am thinking of all the cleats they wear and go through pretty quickly,” she said.

For more information about Rider’s project, visit the WaterStep website. 

To donate shoes, contact Rider at

Article by Michele Walfred

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