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This high school student raised $700,000 for clean water
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For her senior project, Paige Dellerman knew that she wanted to use her love of fashion to raise money for a cause close to her heart clean water.

The senior from East Greenwich High in Rhode Island was 17 at the time. "I knew that I wanted to do something on a grander scale," she says.

Around the globe, 783 million people lack access to clean drinking water which comes out to 1 in 9 people worldwide. In some places, like Sub-Saharan Africa or Guatemala, that number is more like 1 in 2. Water-related illnesses cause more than 2 million deaths every year, and take the lives of 2,000 children daily.

Dellerman had learned about the importance of clean water through nonprofit Living Water International, a Stafford, Texas-based organization that works to provide local communities with clean drinking water.

She set about researching companies that do philanthropy work, and her love for fashion design led her to her favorite jewelry brand Alex and Ani. She learned that it partnered with charities to raise money for a good cause, and she came up with a plan.

She reached out to the multimillion-dollar retailer with a bold proposal: "I decided to go for it and emailed them with a business plan to make a bangle for Living Water," says Dellerman. Since her bracelet launched in 2011, it has raised over $700,000 for clean water, and is on track to raise $1 million by the end of the year.

Charmed idea

After Dellerman shot off her email, she was invited to give a pitch to Alex and Ani executives in their headquarters in Cranston, Rhode Island. Dellerman was coached by her mom, who had worked in a corporate environment for years.

"Paige was very passionate but also very articulate," says Dee Fraser, a manager at Alex and Ani, who saw Dellerman's pitch and became her mentor for the project. Dellerman's idea was greenlighted as the company's first ever student-inspired project, and accepted as part of the Charity by Design line that donates 20 percent of the price of each bangle to a cause in this case, Living Water International.

Dellerman got involved with Living Water International through her local church, which supports the faith-based organization that relies on a network of local pastors and volunteers to build wells in villages in need.

The high school senior worked closely with Fraser on the design, and eventually they settled on a bangle with a bright blue crystal charm in the shape of a raindrop. "It's different from the medallion bangles, it has something that pops," says Fraser. Since it launched in 2011, the Living Water bangle has remained in the top five items in the Charity by Design line.

Women helping women

Women often bear the brunt of unclean water the most in some parts of the world, women must travel 7 hours from home to carry clean water back to their villages, which impacts their education as well as their safety. In February 2013, Alex and Ani released a second Living Water design with a rose-colored stone to honor women.

Helping women offers a great bonding opportunity for mothers and daughters and friends who shop at Alex and Ani, says Dellerman. "It's a physical reminder that you can wear every day that you're helping and saving lives," she says.

In spring of last year, Dellerman and Fraser were invited to go to Guatemala to see some of their profits in action. Living Water International reserved four spaces for Alex and Ani employees to come to a village and help dig a water well.

Naturally, Fraser invited Dellerman, and hosted an in-store competition for retail associates to see who could sell the most Living Water bangles. One of the winners was another high-school student, a part-time employee who had her heart set on going, says Fraser. "It was exciting that we got to have two students two young women on the trip," says Fraser. "There's nothing like seeing that work first-hand."

Dellerman, now a junior at Rhode Island University studying pharmacy, called the trip "incredible." The water that the villagers had been drinking was "like mud," she says, "You couldn't even see through it." When they finished drilling and digging the well, the villagers and volunteers gathered to use the pump for the first time.

"When we finally hit water and clean water came out, the kids were playing in it, grandparents were playing in it I had seen videos and pictures, but nothing compares to being there," she says.

Dellerman would like to work with Alex and Ani to launch other student-driven projects. But in the meantime, her advice to young people who are passionate about causes is to go big.

"It sounds cliche, but follow your heart and see what you can do. If I hadn't sent that email, none of this would have happened," she says. "You never know how far it's gonna go."