Growing up in the Mojave Desert town of Apple Valley, Kala Gabler and her friends Olivia Hinkle and Lucas Clardy shared dreams of doing something one day to help others less fortunate.
All three excelled at soccer and went on to play for Orange County colleges — Clardy at Cal State Fullerton, Hinkle at Concordia University and Gabler at UC Irvine, where she has become a standout goalie for the nationally ranked women's team.
When Hinkle returned from a trip to Uganda last summer, the lifelong friends found their opportunity to do good — aided by the sport they loved.
Hinkle had visited a number of African villages and witnessed firsthand the disease, hunger and poverty caused by inadequate access to clean water. She'd been shocked to learn that she and fellow travelers were not allowed to drink the available water that local children had no choice but to drink.
The trio discovered that purification systems could be built into polluted community springs to provide safe water for drinking, cooking and gardening — all for $1,500 per system.
"We decided that we needed to get involved," says Gabler, 20, who was named a 2010-11 UCI scholar-athlete. "We thought about what we could do to help with this situation."
In fall 2010, they launched the From Goals to Wells project to raise funds for the Ugandan clean-water effort. The group holds soccer camps around Orange County, with proceeds — administered through the nonprofit Assist International — going to purification systems.
"Olivia, Luke and Kala have done a wonderful job leading the way in this project," says Bob Pagett, Assist International founder and president — and Hinkle's uncle. "They're making a difference for thousands of Ugandans."
To kick-start From Goals to Wells, the three garnered a $1,000 grant from Ashoka's Youth Venture, which supports fledgling humanitarian efforts, and won a $10,000 prize from Click 4 Change, a competition that provides funds for college-based social ventures receiving the most online votes.
"We've been getting incredible support from my teammates and other people in the Orange County soccer community," says Gabler, a psychology & social behavior major who just completed her junior year. "That's been the most encouraging part of this."
Scott Juniper, women's soccer head coach, says: "Kala is an example of a student-athlete who embraces every opportunity to impact others. She's one of those people who can connect with anybody, and she's a wonderful ambassador for our program, UCI Athletics and the entire campus."
On July 11-15 at Irvine's Meadowood Park, From Goals to Wells ran its first soccer camp, at which 100 children ages 5 to 12 learned more than just soccer from Gabler, Hinkle, Clardy and fellow college players.
"We also wanted to educate these kids and their parents about Uganda and the clean-water issue and what they can do to help," Gabler says. The camp brought in $7,500 for the water treatment effort.
From Goals to Wells plans to hold more such events, and when Gabler graduates next spring, she hopes to travel to Uganda to help install the purification systems. It's the first step, she believes, toward a future dedicated to teaching and humanitarian aid.
"What I've realized from the project is that it's great to take risks," Gabler says. "You just go for it, and it's not the end of the world if something doesn't turn out right. We've been learning so much. If you stick together with a good group of people, you can go far."
—Tom Vasich, University Communications