Donor Story: When Adrienne Lowe looks at why she donates to The Human Utility, the first thing she sees is her childhood.
We go about our lives these days prepared for the random cruelty of strangers and public figures. But what a pleasure to encounter the opposite.
An interview with Tap member Adrienne Lowe scratched an itch I didn’t know I had — a chance meeting with a stranger so warm, kind and interested in the world, you want to walk with her for awhile in the pleasure of her company.
Like many gifts, hers is a love letter between generations, between her past and current selves, between her and the people in the world she wants to help create.
When Adrienne looks at why she donates to The Human Utility, the first thing she sees is her childhood. Her parents. And their parents.
“I grew up in rural northwest Georgia. My mom carved out the road that led to our house. We had well water my entire childhood. My mom and her father dug the well. She told me recently that they were prepared to go 175 ft (into the ground) because that was all the money they had, but they had not hit water. My grandfather said, ‘Go 10 more!’. So they went 10 more. But still no water. My mom was saying stop… and he was saying GO! He said go 10 more. And when they went 10 more, she said, a huge gushing of water shot up into the sky!
“My dad said they didn’t have indoor plumbing when he was a child. He told me that the first time he saw a toilet was when he went to elementary school in 1962. At home, they had used an outhouse. That’s not that long ago. That’s who I come from.”
At first glance, what Adrienne’s mom managed to convey to her and her brother is not so different from what many of our parents shouted at us while we were at the sink, pretending to do a good job on the dishes but really chucking suds at our siblings: stop wasting water! But context is queen.
Likely your parents were yelling at you because ‘not wasting water’ was the right thing to do. But for Adrienne’s family, there was just no way of knowing if or when the water might run dry. Conservation was the name of the game. “You know you’re relying on something you have no information about. Water was this really precious resource. It was something that had value. It was life-giving and we needed to take care of it,” she explained.
“When I get in the shower and feel the hot water, I feel really grateful.”
It’s not only Adrienne’s gratitude that gushes out from the tap of her soul. It’s her profound empathy for the people The Human Utility helps, many of them budgeting and juggling bills like financial gurus who still, due to the cards life has dealt them, can’t quite make ends meet.
“I think a lot of it comes out of compassion and understanding what it’s like to not be far from one bill or one emergency really setting you back. Never with my water bill, but there were years when I struggled because my car kept breaking down, and every time it broke down I had to put it on credit, and it seemed like as soon as I paid it off it broke down again… and the cycle repeated. Last year the Federal Reserve’s report on the economic well-being of American households found that almost 40% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency with cash, savings, or a credit card charge that they could quickly pay off. I get it. $400 is close, but under, what I usually paid when my car broke down. Public transit wasn’t really an option and I needed my car to get to work. When it broke I had to pay to fix it. I put it on my credit card, and it took a long time to pay down.”
“So, because I have been through that cycle, because that was my story, I get it. When that’s your reality, it is so easy to fall behind on bills. It’s not a failure of character, drive or initiative. I wish more people of means could see that.”
While Adrienne currently leads an engineering team at a startup, she identifies as a career-changer. She doesn’t have a degree in computer science. She came to it much later in life. “I was working in restaurants. Then fundraising. I was the first in my family to finish college.” She tries to use her new-found visibility and power to encourage folks to reach a hand out to people who are still struggling.
“Last year on Twitter, I challenged my 4K followers to donate their monthly water bill to The Human Utility. I have no idea if anyone did it. I was trying to help my friends in tech think about how much of a non-issue it is to pay your water bill. Mine is about $30/month. I remember when that was a lot for me. It isn’t anymore. A $30 bill. Or $50. Or even $100 — these are not going to break the bank. I’m a high earner now. So, why not give to The Human Utility to help people for whom it is a big deal?”
Are you someone who is in a position to join Adrienne in donating her monthly water bill (or whatever you can) to The Human Utility? It will only take you about five minutes to set it up. You’ll be helping families access a precious resource that should be available to all, but isn’t.