Isabelle and Katherine Adams are not your average high school students. These sisters, a senior and a sophomore, respectively, at School for the Talented and Gifted, are co-CEOs of their own nonprofit, co-authors of their own book, and now co-recipients–the first teenagers ever–of the Presidential Volunteer Service Lifetime Achievement Award.
Isabelle and Katherine started their nonprofit, Paper for Water, in 2011 at just eight and five years old when they learned that girls in developing countries often did not go to school because they hauled water all day and that a child died every 15 seconds from unclean water.
Wanting to help make a change, the Adams sisters started a project making origami Christmas ornaments and exchanging them for donations to raise money for water wells. Their project grew into Paper for Water, through which the girls have raised more than $2.5 million, helping fund over 300 water projects in 20 countries over the past 10 years.
They estimate they’ve made around 50,000 ornaments, and that each of them has put in more than 4,000 hours of work, in addition to help from family and friends.
“Neither of us do Paper for Water to be recognized,” shared Katherine, when asked about receiving the Presidential Volunteer Service Lifetime Achievement Award from President Biden. “But it is an incredible honor to be recognized for all the effort and hard work we have put in over the past ten years.”
“Volunteering is so important and really gratifying,” said Isabelle. “Knowing you helped someone in a meaningful way is one of the best things.”
Their hard work hasn’t stopped at running Paper for Water. These young women recently published a book titled One Piece of Paper at a Time, a collection of stories detailing how and why they started Paper for Water, and how it has grown into the organization it is today.
With so many accomplishments at such young ages, it’s easy to forget the Adams sisters are students in high school. Isabelle is a section leader in the Townview Choir and a member of her school’s chapter of the National Honor Society. Both sisters participate in the Origami Club, and Katherine is an active athlete, rowing six times a week.
Running a nonprofit together on top of sharing a room would be a challenge for most siblings, but these sisters have a special dynamic. “We work really well together, we complement each other really well,” said Katherine.
“We definitely have our sibling banter,” reflected Isabelle. “But I just feel really lucky that we’ve gotten to spend so much time together.”
Their younger sister, Trinity, is following in their footsteps, having joined the team as Chief Creative Officer.
Learn more about Paper for Water as well as Isabelle and Katherine’s book, at paperforwater.org.