It came as no shock to me that Hope Watson’s birthday falls on December 25. After just minutes of speaking with her, I couldn’t help realizing what a true gift the junior from Jefferson City is.
Hope has devoted her life to blessing others and has already, at 21, touched countless lives. From traveling across the U.S. for faith-based missions trips to raising money to build a well for a Kenyan orphanage, Watson has surely earned her reputation as having a “philanthropic soul.”
“It is incredibly humbling to know others think that,” Watson said after being asked about her nickname given to her by her friends and sorority sisters. “It is my greatest hope that I could be a person anchored by dedication to uncompromising benevolence and kindness. To know that this is reflected in the impression others have of me means my hope is being actualized. I couldn’t be more honored.”
In the fall of 2015, Watson co-founded Roots, located on the first floor of the student center, with her friend, Ashleigh Atasoy. Watson described Roots as a “social business,” meaning that the for-profit side of Roots funds the non-profit side. The for-profit portion of the business is powered by Mizzou student artists. The students give their artwork to Roots, which is printed on t-shirts, posters, coffee mugs, greeting cards and laptop stickers to sell. Watson said that the artists receive 50% of the sale commission, 20% of the profit goes to store operational expenses, and the last 30% funds the four art clinic after-school programs created by the business.
Currently, Roots partners with “The Boys and Girls Club,” “Columbia Housing Authority Moving Ahead Program,” “Granny’s House” and “Fun City” to bring in Mizzou student artists and create crafts with local low-income children.
“We decided to start Roots because it was evident that in the wake of the economic downturn of 2008, there had been significant budget cuts to art education programs in Columbia elementary schools,” Watson said. “We chose to serve children from low-income families specifically because they are disproportionally affected by budget cuts due to other circumstances intersecting with their socio-economic status.”
According to Watson, unlike some colleges, Mizzou’s art school does not have a professional development program. While Mizzou art students spend four years perfecting their craft, they leave college without business skills necessary to promote themselves and successfully sell their pieces. Watson says that Roots helps students obtain some of these skills and provides them with a real-life experience, as their artwork must appear before an art jury of student artists and receive a majority vote in order for it to be shown in the store, much like the process of being featured in a downtown art gallery.
“The roots of a tree delve deeper below the surface to access nutrients and draw them out,” Watson said, explaining how she and her co-founder decided on a name for their business. “These nutrients are then used to foster the growth of the tree and make it flourish into something incredible. As a business, we hope to probe into the untapped potential of both community groups we serve, children from low-income families and Mizzou artists, to bring out the magnificent beauty in each. We firmly believe that the transformative power of art can counteract the negative effects of poverty.”
The political science and journalism major has a lot on her plate when it comes to balancing school and service. Over the course of the past 8 years, Watson has traveled all over the country on 7 faith-based mission trips to work in children’s homes, clean up after tornadoes and work food banks. She spent 4 years as an ally to the organization “Invisible Children,” which seeks to end the kidnapping, abuse and subsequent violence of child soldiers in central and eastern Africa. This past summer, Watson worked as an unpaid intern in Washington, D.C. for a non-profit called “Bread for the World,” an organization seeking to end world hunger through advocacy meant to inform policy change.
When she isn’t swamped with these responsibilities, Watson enjoys spending time with her friends and boyfriend, cooking pastries and playing recreational golf.
In 2012, as a sophomore in high school, Watson began a yearlong project with a group of friends to raise $25,000 to build a well for an orphanage in Kenya, Africa. Ironically, the orphanage was named House of Hope. Watson and her friends partnered with a church in Michigan willing to match the money they raised, and they began searching for corporate sponsorships and holding community garage sales.
As a result of Watson’s work, the orphanage gained a clean water source, allowing them to provide their own children with the water and earn a profit by selling the water in times of drought to surrounding communities. Proceeds from those sales allowed the orphanage to hire new teachers and expand the size of their school, and the extra money from the new students’ tuitions enabled the House of Hope to hire a doctor to visit the orphanage once a month.
“The doctor has been able to save the lives of a few orphans and improve the quality of life for many of them,” Watson said.
In the summer of 2013, Watson finally traveled to Africa to meet the children impacted by her project.
“You can’t imagine the pride and joy I felt being pulled from my dust-covered van by 20 excited children, strangers to me only moments before, into the orphanage bathroom to dance with them in the water coming from the shower,” Watson said. “I had tears in my eyes as I realized that water was made possible by our fundraising project.”
Watson spent two weeks there getting to know the children.
“Although I’ve never been back, I will never forget those dirt-covered days spent in the hills of Navaisha with the children that became a part of my heart forever,” Watson said.
According to Watson, she decided to pursue both the creation of Roots and the clean water project because her life is marked by many things: a loving family, citizenship in “the greatest nation on Earth,” a passion for academic pursuit, and most of all, privilege.
“It is this privilege that has made me hyper aware of the lack of privilege in the lives of those around me,” Watson said. “Both Roots and my clean water project fell into the intersection of my passion for serving those less privileged than me, and my competency for understanding how to produce useful results in their various forms. I view it not as a choice, but as an obligation, to pursue ventures that land at this intersection.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if her parents had expected that their daughter would serve as a shining beacon of light for so many when they held her for the first time and named her so fittingly. I had never met someone who served as such an embodiment of her own name.