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Isle of Wight family gifted new well

For the first time in two years, Jordan Vande Brake can turn on a faucet in his home and drink a glass of water without fear.

When he and his wife, Candice, relocated to Isle of Wight County in 2019 to be closer to family, they bought a house in a rural area with a shallow well that was failing. Shallow wells, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, can become contaminated easily because they draw water from aquifers near the surface.

Since moving in, they’ve relied on bottled water, even for tasks such as making coffee.

“All we really used the well water for was to take showers and the garden,” Vande Brake said.

Now, the Vande Brake’s have a new 400-foot deep well, thanks to the Chris Long Foundation and its partners.

Long, a retired National Football League defensive end, founded the organization in 2015 while playing for the St. Louis Rams. He retired from the NFL in 2019.

“We believe in a world that stands up to inequity to ensure access to clean water and education are considered basic human rights that no person lacks,” reads the foundation’s vision statement.

The Vande Brakes had applied to Water Well Trust, a nationwide nonprofit that helps supply water to low-income families, typically through loans funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But this year, Water Well Trust is providing new well systems for five families free of charge thanks to donations from Long’s foundation and Xylem Watermark, the philanthropic arm of water technology provider Xylem Inc.

The Vande Brakes are the fifth and final family who will receive a free well in 2021.

“Just got blessed, I guess,” Vande Brake said.

To qualify for a loan or one of the five grants, families had to be low-income, live in a rural area without access to a public water supply, and be using the house in need of a well as a primary residence.

“Families can contact us via phone or on our website; they fill out an inquiry form and that gets emailed directly to us,” said Water Well Trust’s executive director, Margaret Martens.

Once that’s done, Water Well Trust will reach out to the applicant and guide him or her through the application process, which she described as “very simple.”

According to Xylem, domestic water scarcity issues currently leave more than 2 million Americans without access to clean water.

Crews with Xylem and a local partner, Creason & Sons Well Service of Zuni, came out Aug. 20 to dig the hole for the new well and returned on Aug. 24 to complete the installation, and do some additional volunteer work.

“Xylem Watermark is our social responsibility program, so not only do we help bring Americans access to water, we also try to do other things for the family, so we’re building a play set for the kids, we’re helping to clean up their barn and we’re going to rebuild the well house,” said Susan O’Grady, director of marketing for Xylem.

She estimates the value of the well system alone at between $15,000 to $20,000.

Vande Brake hopes the teamwork will rub off on his three children.

“We can show them this, and they can realize and see how people can come together to make things happen,” Vande Brake said. “Clean, good water that you can just drink, you don’t think about it until you don’t have it, and then once you have it, you have an appreciation for it, and we definitely appreciate what we have.”