Stop worrying about what others are doing and focus on yourself. Think of it as horses wearing the blinders. Everyone’s journey can be inspirational to yours, but should never be something you attempt to replicate. Your path is yours and the more time you spend focusing on others, you lose sight of your own.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Luke Romick, Director of Marketing & Partnerships for Thirst Project.
Unlike most 20-somethings, Luke has worked at the same company for nearly a decade in a range of roles from intern and volunteer to now the Director of Marketing & Partnerships. Luke works with Thirst Project, a unique and diverse non-profit organization located in the heart of Los Angeles, to activate hundreds of thousands of young people across the world to end the global water crisis. In his eight year tenure, Luke has developed and executed influencer marketing campaigns with Angela Kinsey from ‘The Office’, the cast of ‘Mean Girls’ and YouTube sensation, The ACE Family that have raised and reached millions. In addition, Luke has also developed and executed brand marketing campaigns with Paramount Pictures, Stance Socks and Tender Greens to raise awareness and funds to end the water crisis. In the last decade, Thirst Project has raised 10 Million dollars+, 100% of which has been used to fund the construction of over 3.3K water projects in 13 countries, giving clean water to more than 500K people for life.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Hi everyone! I was born and raised in a town outside of Cincinnati, OH called Lebanon. I grew up alongside my twin sister, Jill, and the majority of my extended family lived within a few hours of our house. This made those large family gatherings a tradition around many holidays and events — something I miss the most being located in Los Angeles, CA now. Growing up, I was extremely interested in athletics, so, I started out by playing soccer, football and basketball. As I got older, I focused solely on football and track which leads to why I am such an avid Cincinnati Bearcats, Bengals and Reds fan.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
More so a person than a book, but I would say my former teacher then later coach, Brian Kindell made a significant impact on me growing up. He gave me the opportunity to join him on the sidelines of the junior high school football games and was the first educator who provided me with the attention and support I needed to get my life together. The games were only available to me after proving good behavior and better grades. This attitude adjustment inspired me to strive for being a role model to other young individuals, even if I was not quite there yet.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I define “Making A Difference” as the act of leaving the space you are taking up in a better condition than what you found it in. That can be taken literally as in cleaning up a mess or metaphorically. For me, this means that your presence in an organization or group setting should always be one of positive benefit and not one of negative energy that takes away from the group. This also does not imply that you need to insert yourself into messy spaces just to feel like you are making a difference. You can make a difference simply by practicing positivity within your own home, throughout your network of friends, and in extended communities.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Of course! I am the Marketing and Partnerships Director at Thirst Project, a non-profit organization that exists to end the global water crisis. What makes our organization unique is that we primarily focus on educating and activating young people across the world to help us end the water crisis. Additionally, 100% of public donations raised are used to build clean water projects. To date, we have worked with over 2M young people who have been the driving force in raising more than 10M dollars, all of which has been used to build over 3.3K clean water projects in 13 different countries, ultimately giving over 500K people clean water for life.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Similar to many students that we have worked with over the last decade, I found out about Thirst Project during my senior year of high school back in Lebanon, OH. At that time, the Founder and CEO, Seth Maxwell, was conducting all of the inspiring presentations. I fell in love with the idea that I had everything I needed at that moment to begin making a difference. I did not need to wait until I had the best job, or the most money or all this free time — I was inspired and ready to make a difference. Here I am nine years later still waking up every day with the same energy.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
My “aha moment” was that school tour presentation I sat through. I remember it well — it was during Mr. Collier’s AP Biology class and I was just thankful we were not working on organic chemistry that day. I remember waiting to meet Seth, talking to him a bit, then going back to class and telling my friend, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m going to do something with them next year when I go to Denison!” After graduating a few weeks later, working my way through summer, and then attending college in the fall, I ended up starting my own club on campus, raised a small amount of money, and took to Twitter to bug Seth about an internship. Eventually he caved and said I don’t have any money for you, but if you can make it out to LA, I’ll put you to work… and the rest is history! I applied for and received a research grant to study the effect clean water had on the prevention of HIV/AIDS which I used to secure an apartment off of Craigslist. I then packed my bags and moved to LA the first summer after my freshman year at school. After a successful first experience, I returned each summer since then. Each time with enough salary to get me through three months of rent and food/gas each summer, essentially breaking even. Then, after graduation in 2016, I took a full-time role with the company and have worked my way up to become the Director of Marketing and Partnerships.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I was not a founding member of Thirst Project, but I have certainly been on the ground floor of building Thirst Project into the organization that you see today. I think one of the most important things we have done is surround ourselves with and partner with people/organizations that do things way better than we do. We know our strengths can be found in storytelling and social impact, so, we knew we needed to fill the holes with people in each and every industry. From securing a myriad of board members who are leaders in the finance, entertainment, food/bev space to partnering with digital influencers who are seen by millions across YouTube, Instagram, and Twitch really helped us get to where we are today. By organically connecting with these influencers and organizations where they are already at, we are able to secure additional awareness and fundraising. I always say that the best first step is to just get started. Be intentional, but do not forget that we are all still figuring it out along the way.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
There are too many to tell but one of my favorites is the story of putting together the Mean Girls Campaign we ran in 2019 just days after our 9th Annual Thirst Gala. Jonathan Bennett aka Aaron Samuels had an idea after being our Live Auction host at the event, to get the cast of Mean Girls together to support our work at Thirst Project. In planning out the campaign, we landed on the idea that since Lindsay Lohan’s character Cady was from Africa, we wanted to create a ‘Mean Girls Do Good’ campaign to raise 8,000 dollars in order to fund a freshwater well in Uganda. The kicker was that we only had about 36 hours before Mean Girls day to create the video and the landing page. Jonathan scrambled all night and the next morning to get as much footage together of as many cast members reading the same lines. I stitched the videos together on the fly with notes from Jonathan, finally finishing the piece at 11:45pm EST the night before Mean Girls Day. Luckily, we pulled it off and the promo video was ready to be sent to all the cast members to post on their social channels. Kellen from our team also had to code an entire landing page to have ready for every viewer in that same timeframe. The reception was wonderful! The campaign went viral when all of the cast members that participated shared the video. We ended up having over 800 people donate to fund a well in Uganda! An amazing experience that came together at the last second.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I tell this story to anyone I bring into my marketing department so that they can learn from my mistakes — no naming names either, haha! One day in preparing for our annual Thirst Gala event, we were recruiting a livestream red carpet host who wanted to grab lunch and talk more about the opportunity with their publicist. I was 19 at the time, and it was probably my first or second time ever getting to pitch something without Seth or someone else with me and we had a great time talking about everything under the sun, including how great it would be to have that person host. Over the course of the conversation, they asked me who the worst influencer/talent was that I ever worked with… I initially did not answer, but after they pushed a little, I did not want to seem closed off, so I spilled this story of a previous Thirst Gala experience where I had an awful time working with this individual. I shared that the talent was not particularly in it for the cause. Their reactions seemed fine and we finished the lunch. Not two minutes into my drive home did I get a call from our founder asking what in the world did I do?! It turns out that the publicist at lunch ALSO repped the exact same person I had talked negatively about and as you can imagine, that blew everything up. I am fortunate that I learned that lesson while I was still an intern because I would have certainly fired myself in my founder’s position. The lesson there is to NEVER have anything negative to say about anyone and NEVER name names. First, because it is honestly the right thing to do, and second because the world is so much smaller than you think.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
It is funny you say that because that was one of my opening lines in a speech I gave at the Wooden Citizenship Cup ceremony in that what you see standing here on this stage today is a collection of everyone and everything that has influenced me along the way. I will focus on the group that was with me that day, and it was my family. I had so many family members attend that event that I was the only finalist who had to have a whole table to himself. I am glad they were there with me after all of the hours they sacrificed sitting at games and practices, all the hard-earned money my parents spent on equipment and travel over the years and more. I was not by myself being seen from afar. They got to enjoy the moment with me and feel celebrated and honored the same way I did. For me, that was the best part of that entire experience.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
While there are a number of different angles I could approach this from, I think the most exciting one is the impact we are having on the lives of young people across the world. In communities across the globe, we are helping young people to enjoy their youth by providing access to safe, clean drinking water. In our programs that fundraise for those projects, we are building a socially conscious generation of young people who are equipped with the resources and the tools they need to end any humanitarian crisis, even ones in their local community. I am also one of those students who has benefited immensely from the programs that we offer.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Tell somebody. At the root of every movement is word of mouth. Inform the people in your world that today, over 600M people on our planet still lack access to safe, clean drinking water.
- Create. Share the Thirst Project story in whatever way you like and call people to action. Some artists like to paint, others like to perform and even more like to promote their lifesaving work.
- Donate. It is the least exciting answer, but it is the most important. For as little as 25 dollars, Thirst Project can give one person clean water for life.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
- Stop worrying about what others are doing and focus on yourself. Think of it as horses wearing the blinders. Everyone’s journey can be inspirational to yours, but should never be something you attempt to replicate. Your path is yours and the more time you spend focusing on others, you lose sight of your own.
- Take care of your mental health, no one else is going to do it for you. This statement is something that I think is improving generationally. Having open discussions about mental health but was not something I grew up with. It is your mental health. Own it and take as good of care of it as you can so that you are the best version of yourself that you can be, day in and day out.
- Celebrate the small wins. If you wait to celebrate only the big milestones, you may be waiting quite some time after your first few. So, it has always been important to me to celebrate the small wins. This could mean getting an email response on a cold outreach, or an uptick in growth over a weekend.
- Understand how your energy affects others. I actually received this advice from my college track coach. It was an eye-opening piece of feedback I had never comprehended before. If I was upset and carried that energy into practice, I would bring down the entire team. So, it is always best to take as good of care of yourself as you can and on the bad days, leave that energy at the door before walking into work.
- Always be careful what you wish for, sometimes you just might get it. There are so many examples to choose from, such as getting projects/assignments you are not qualified for or having to pitch ideas on the fly rather than work and tweak them in a deck. You always have to be careful what you wish for. We often do not realize what will be required of us in those situations we desire. Sometimes you will get that opportunity you have been wishing for and that is why it is important that you are always ready to take it when it comes.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
If you have any desire to leave a world for those around you and for those that will come after you — solving the issues that matter most and being conscious of our impact on the world around us is one of the most effective things you can do in ensuring that our collective future is bright. And your role in keeping it that way is as important as the next person’s!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
If I could have a private breakfast or lunch with anyone, it would no doubt have to be Miley Cyrus. Her work with Happie Hippie Foundation has already carried out so much good in the world. Besides being a legend outside of that, we are both still so young, which means we have a lot of time left to make the world a better place together!
How can our readers follow you online?
I can be found online at @lucasjames24 on Instagram & Twitter and @thirstproject everywhere! www.thirstproject.org
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!