Fresh Water Activist Gets Personal

Photo by Zan Strumfeld

Throw away your plastic water bottles. Recycle them and buy a stainless steel water bottle…or Nick DePalma might come and find you. Well, not really, but fourth-year sociology major DePalma is all about really making a difference.

DePalma is a co-organizer of Students For Fresh Water (SFFW), a non-profit organization on-campus that works to fundraise money for developing nations suffering without fresh water.

However, prior to his humanitarian-filled days, DePalma was more or less just an average kid growing up in Yorktown Heights, NY, a part of Westchester County. Inspired by his father, DePalma became quite the sports guy, participating in everything from hockey and baseball to gymnastics and figure skating. He attended Catholic school from kindergarten to sixth grade, which he said was “very personal.”

“We were the ‘cool kids,’” said DePalma, talking about he and his friends. “But I started to get picked on because I was small.”

DePalma moved onto public school in seventh grade, at the brink of his parents’ divorce.

“I was the new kid but popular, and I had several silly middle school relationships,” he said. “But then I stepped on the wrong toes and the bullying began. Things shifted pretty drastically. It’s pretty cliché yet unique because of the different situations I was put in.”

Although DePalma admits he was a poor student in middle school, mainly from social issues and his parents’ divorce, he began to play Frisbee in high school, which became one of the biggest activities of his life.

One major accomplishment for DePalma was winning an award in seventh grade for a rap he wrote and performed about Martin Luther King, Jr. From there, he continued to write here and there, and at one point majored in creative writing.

After graduating high school, DePalma enrolled at the SUNY at Oswego in the fall of 2007, majoring in meteorology.

“It was at Oswego where I started to really develop my personality,” said DePalma. “I really created my own sense of self.”

It was also at Oswego where DePalma began to get involved with activism.

“I got involved with Students for Global Change and then Students For Fresh Water,” said DePalma.

DePalma said that he had raised about $90 by tabling for SFFW. However, the night before he had gotten very sick from drinking water with moldy ice cubes.

“There I was feeling incredibly weak from making a drink cold and yet I’m talking to people about those who don’t even have water. It was an interesting dichotomy,” said DePalma. “I was working with the disparity between someone else’s crisis and mine, and my reality shrunk…from there I became very passionate about charity water.”

In the fall of 2009, DePalma transferred to State University of New York at New Paltz because the “sociology department at Oswego sucked” and his best friend from high school, fourth-year art major Andrew Kaminski also went to New Paltz.

From there, DePalma began a SFFW club at New Paltz with third-year English major Arielle Lindstrom. They began tabling at the farmer’s market in front of Humanities on Thursdays and then began having meetings in Humanities. DePalma said they even went as far as obtaining two toilets and asking people if they would drink out of the toilet.

“People said no, but the toilet water is actually cleaner than the water overseas,” he said. “I later realized I was being a little aggressive with my point of view when it came to some issues. I learned that in order to make a difference, you need to understand someone else first before you try to make them understand you.”

This semester, SFFW are trying something different. The organization is working with the Student Association about selling stainless steel water bottles for a low price (under $10). He said that clubs/organizations on-campus can also get a discount if they want to print their logos on the bottles. For more information e-mail or for direct donations, visit

The project’s goal is to reach $2,000 by December 2010 and eventually $5,000. This goal will bring 250 village people safe drinking water for 20 years. Although they don’t currently know the specific village, once the money is raised, will let them know a year from December to which well it is going. SFFW is sponsoring the Envied Fashion show on Sunday, Nov. 7 in Multi-purpose room at 6 p.m. to help raise money for the well also.

Besides for SFFW, DePalma is also a part of the volunteering collective at Slash Root since early spring 2010. Slash Root has a “pay what you want” sales model for drinks, as well as supporting local businesses, having a garden and having music events. SFFW will be having an event in late October at Slash Root, most likely during Halloween weekend.

DePalma is also a music minor at New Paltz, mainly focusing on drums. He is in the Turkish band, Sekanjabin, which practices on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. in Slash Root. DePalma said any instrumentalists are welcome.

DePalma plans to stay in New Paltz after he graduates but not for graduate school.

“I have no projections right now but I’d really like to be a fund raiser,” said DePalma. “I also want to travel extensively, see places that are less developed and more developed than the U.S. Really see what the world has to offer.”

DePalma’s main outlook on life is progress and success through unity.

“We don’t get anything truly accomplished when we divide ourselves from others or allow our indulgence of pride and ownership to take over our communal efforts,” said DePalma.