From West Islip, New York, Alicia Villafana is a sophomore business major at St. John’s University with a plan to minor in Spanish. She is interested in fashion, beauty, and travel. She has a passion for helping others and making a change, and aspires to become a successful business woman.
This is her story.
Almost anyone who knows you knows that Thirst Project is a big part of your life. Let’s start with that: what is Thirst Project and how did you get involved?
Thirst Project is the world’s number one leading youth water activism organization. Its headquarters are based in Los Angeles, California and they are a 100% non-profit charity that raises funds to build fresh water wells in nations that don’t have access to clean drinking water.
In 10th grade, I had just quit the cheer team, and was under the impression that in order to get into college, I needed to do something in the community since I wasn’t in music or sports (AKA desperado for some community service hours.) At my high school, there was a club called the West Islip Thirst Project, and I knew that the adviser, an Italian teacher named Paola Nilsen (aka Nil,) was generous with community service hours. One of my good friends, Taylor Sorice, was already involved in the club, so I attended a meeting with her and since then it just took off! After hearing Nil speak at the meeting and learning about the global water crisis, I knew I had to do something to get more involved. Nil was so passionate about the cause: her energy just drove right through me. At the conclusion of the meeting, Taylor and I had volunteered to “dumpster dive” which was going around the school collecting bottles from the recycling bins and then going to the local supermarket to recycle them and redeem the $0.05 per bottle. As the school year progressed, we got more and more involved.
Then, 11th grade rolled around and we became part of the executive board and continued to stay actively involved, whether it was planning a fundraising event or continuing to recycle. In our senior year, Taylor and I became co-presidents of the club and decided that our fundraising goal for the year was going to be $24,000. 100% of the proceeds would go directly towards the building of two fresh water wells in Swaziland, Africa.
What opportunities has Thirst Project given you?
Each year, the Thirst Project has a Gala event hosted by the Beverly Hilton Hotel in California. They give out an award called ‘The Power of Youth Award.’ Students who receive this award have shown an exceptional amount of dedication to Thirst Project by raising an exceptional amount of money and by spreading an exceptional amount of awareness about the water crisis. We were inspired by the 2015 POY winner Harrison Kelly. After 10 long months of hard work and determination, Taylor and I were successful and actually surpassed our goal and raised $25,000!!! Towards the end of our senior year, we had caught word that we’d been nominated for the Power of Youth Award and much to our surprise, we won!
We were flown out to California to accept it at the 7th Annual Thirst Gala. We walked a red carpet, did interviews, and made acceptance speeches in front of 700+ people. It was truly the most humbling and unreal experience EVER. As part of winning the award, Taylor and I earned all-expense paid trips to Swaziland, Africa.
You were blessed with the opportunity to go to Africa for TEN days. Can you talk to us about that?
I got back from my trip to Swaziland about 2 weeks ago, (and lemme tell ya, it was AHHMAZING!) Truly the trip of a LIFETIME. It was so crazy to see with my own eyes the result of the efforts that I’m a part of and to see how much of an impact has been made.
Hearing the before and after stories of how life has changed since a well was installed was just absolutely heartwarming. We celebrated the completion of water projects and also constructed a fresh water well.
The most mind boggling concept for me to understand was the fact that one day, there was no water. The next day, when the well was completed, there was water flowing from the faucet and just like that… life is changed. The Swati people live so simply, and truly with so little, yet value and appreciate EVERYTHING about life, and that is something I so truly admire.
How has Thirst Project and going to Swaziland impacted your life?
Thirst Project has impacted my life in unspeakable ways. I’ve never met a group of people who are so caring and compassionate and who share the same passion for eradicating the water crisis. Thirst Project has changed my perspective, and has taught me that it really is the little things, like water, that matter and to not take ANYTHING for granted. If I had never gotten involved in Thirst Project, I would have never quite felt that humbling, rewarding, and truly indescribable feeling of what it’s like to know that you’ve helped change the life of someone for the better, forever.
Why should more people be aware of what’s going on in Africa?
I believe that people should be aware of the global water crisis because such a basic human right is lacked by so many. 663 million people around the world lack access to clean drinking water. Children aren’t able to receive an education because hours out of each day are being spent trekking to fetch water: that is CONTAMINATED and being shared with cows & other animals. A person walks 3.75 miles on average to their nearest water source and carry 44 pound jerry cans that whole distance. Women experience horrendous spinal conditions and have spontaneous miscarriages due to the strain on their body. 4,100 children die each day due to water-borne illnesses. None of this is normal, and it will never be normal. Disease rates drop 80% OVERNIGHT once clean water is accessible. When we’re thirsty, we can go get a water bottle, or turn on the kitchen faucet. We can hop in the shower whenever we need to and can expect water to come flowing out. The amazing human beings of Swaziland and other countries, don’t have this “luxury”. Water is gold. Water is life. When you give water, you really are giving life. You enable one to have a future.
You’re a firm believer of the mantra “live ya best life.” How do you live your best life?
Ah, the good ‘ole phrase “live ya best life.” Absolutely my motto (sorry Drake, this is my new YOLO). How do I live my best life? That’s a great question considering I never really thought about it until now. I wake up every day and thank God for the day. We tend to not think much of it, but each and every day we’re alive is truly a blessing. I try to live my life with a super positive attitude: life’s too short to not live a happy one! I try to see the bright side in every situation and I firmly believe in the universe and laws of attraction/manifestation. So what you think/put into the universe, is what you get right back from the universe. This is why we can’t forget the happy thoughts; all you need is happy thoughts! (Thanks for that one, Chancey.)
How will you use your gift to change the world?
I put 110% effort into everything I do because even if it doesn’t end up how I planned, I can say that I did my absolute BEST. I try to really live in the moment and absorb all of what’s around me; I try to go out and have fun and do adventurous things out of my comfort zone; I try to really just live! I try to help those in need because I live such a fortunate life… why not go out and allow those to have the same chance ya know? I hope that my positive energy radiates and helps make the slightest difference in someone’s day.
You’re a bit of a fashionista. Walk us through your wardrobe experience, how do you pick the right outfit?
First off, this is probably one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten, wow thank you so much! Second, my wardrobe experience is actually HELLA messy right now because I’m in the midst of trying to change up and really figure out what my “style” is. When it comes to picking the right outfit? I just go with what I’m feeling for that day! My number one priority is being comfortable and I try to think simply when it comes to pairing colors together.
What is your signature look? What can people point out and say “That’s so Alicia?”
As for a signature look, I don’t think I’ve established one yet, but I will admit that I’m IN LOVE with my white Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses and Adidas Superstar sneakers. I feel as though my style is evolving into a “glammed-up street style.” I love destroyed jeans, bomber jackets, sneakers, simplistic oversized tees, but I try to “glam it up” a little by adding a pop of color here or an accessory there so the look isn’t as raw.
Do you have style icons or inspirations? If so, who?
As for inspiration, I’m literally on Pinterest every day saving new pins to my fashion board or on Instagram or Youtube. That’s how I come across some of the coolest, outfits that I use as inspiration for my own outfits. Besides social media, I’m inspired by those around me. If I see something that someone’s wearing that I love, I’ll go up to them or message them asking where they got it, or what their inspiration for that look was!
WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND?
This section consists of 2 questions on any topic to gain the interviewee’s opinion, perspective or more information about them.
Thirst Project, Student Government, a full course load… all while maintaining the college life. What do you do when you’re not studying or trying to change the world?
I think when I’m not studying or trying to change the world I’m sleeping LOL. Anyone who knows me knows how important my sleep is to me and I’m even known as a grandma! Also, in my free time, I try to go out and explore, or spend time with family and friends. Exploring is super easy once I’m at St. John’s because the city is right there! A simple “Hmm I don’t know what to do today” turns into a whole day of exploration in the city going shopping or to cool cafes or areas, it may even turn into a photo shoot- who knows! I try to go with the flow because spontaneous plans tend to be the best plans.
What advice can you give to someone who wants to accomplish a dream?
To anyone who wants to accomplish a dream, don’t let anyone tell you, “You can’t.” Go out there and push and push and despite ANY opposition you may face, keep BELIEVING in yourself and your vision. Don’t be scared to ask for help; there are tons of valuable resources to utilize. Try and stay organized and if you can, plan out the steps you need to take to accomplish that dream, but remember that things can change along the way and that that’s normal, don’t get flustered. Speak it into existence!
Be sure to follow Alicia at @_alicia_v on Twitter/ @aliciavillafana on Instagram.
Stay tuned for the next interview!