Teen leads community to pour out support for hurricane victims

Jessica Fuller • Updated Feb 14, 2018 at 11:35 PM

Thirteen-year-old Derek Onks had an idea.

In a matter of two weeks, that idea grew into 43,000 pounds of water that was donated to Hurricane Harvey victims in September.

And next month, Derek will be honored with a Governor’s Volunteer Stars award for his project that brought the community together.

When Hurricane Harvey tore through Texas in September, Derek, who is in 8th grade at Grandview Elementary School, said he watched the news and saw photos and footage of the victims in the aftermath of the hurricane he said he felt like he had to do something.

“I just saw the pictures and videos about it,” he said. “I didn’t like it at all, I really didn’t.”

His parents, April and Mickey Onks, said they talked with Derek about praying for the victims, but Derek told his parents he didn’t feel like that was enough.

That’s when he got the idea to start a water drive for victims of the hurricane, and he approached his principal, Rachel Price, with the idea. Then he and his parents began getting the word out through his school, church newsletters and social media.

He said the task was a little daunting at first — how was he going to get enough water to those who needed it?

He said he began to get discouraged after the first few days of the drive didn’t yield many donations, but it wasn’t long before the community began pouring out its support with bottles of water, eventually filling a tractor-trailer with parcels of water to be distributed in Texas.

The water went to a church distribution center in Houston, and most of the water went to an orphanage and people who were involved in foster care who were displaced, Mickey said.

“I’m just proud of him,” April said. “He has a very giving heart, he felt like there was more he could do.”

Since Derek’s water drive, he has been honored at the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen and Washington County Board of Education meetings, and he will travel to Franklin next month to represent Washington County in the Governor’s Volunteer Stars Award. The award recognizes youths from all 95 counties in the state for their volunteerism.


Email Jessica Fuller at jfuller@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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