Bridging The Gap: Providing Clean Water for Millions


Humanitarian projects often sprout from a moment of inspiration then grow with commitment and lots of hard work. Bridging the Gap, founded by Shirley Adams of Chico, followed this pattern.

Eight years ago, Shirley and her husband Grant traveled to Nepal and trekked to South Base Camp on Mt. Everest. During the trek, they crossed seven bridges. The precarious bridge crossings, beauty, and pace of the trek gave her time to think and ponder. “There was a moment,” she reveals, “where God inspired me to bridge the gap between our country, which has such great wealth, and countries that have so little.” At the time, she didn’t know what this message meant, but by the time she left Base Camp, she did know her life would never be the same again.

art-0414-water2Initially, Shirley thought her calling would be to work with orphanages in Nepal. “Every door I explored closed, though,” she says. Staying open to other ideas, in her mind’s eye she began seeing images of women carrying urns or jerry cans of water on their heads. She did some research and learned that 80 percent of illnesses in developing countries result from impure water. Thus her mission took focus – to assist in providing water to developing nations. On February 6, 2006, Bridging the Gap was born and began a partnership with North Valley Community Foundation.

With the groundwork in place, Shirley researched nonprofits whose purpose matched her own. She was familiar with World Vision and knew they were an established and substantial organization. She formed a partnership with them, and 75 percent of money raised by Bridging the Gap goes to and is matched by them. One hundred percent of that money goes toward providing clean water in Uganda, Zambia, and several West African nations. For over eight years Bridging the Gap has helped provide more than 17,000 Africans with water, sanitation and hygiene.

World Vision coordinates the on-the-ground work of digging boreholes (hand pumps) and wells, and the organization hires all African labor for the projects.

Grant, Shirley’s husband of 48 years, is her strongest supporter and has worked with her in Bridging the Gap since day one. The couple has biked across the United States three times, raising awareness about lack of clean water in developing nations. “We are adventurers and live by faith, not sight,” Grant reports. From day to day on their trips they don’t know where they’ll spend the night. “Most of the time we stay in motels,” says Shirley. “Other times people invite us into their homes for meals and lodging.”

On their trips they wear t-shirts that say “Every.1 Needs Clean Water.” Curious people ask them what their shirts mean. “It gives us the opportunity to raise awareness about lack of clean water and how that affects populations,” Shirley continues. “Often people donate.” During an October 2013 ride across the United States from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida, Shirley and Grant raised $20,000 for the project.

Shirley and Grant have a shop in their home where they sell African artifacts, hand crafted goods, and items donated by local vendors. All proceeds go to the cause. Recently Klean Kanteen in Chico donated 50 water bottles to the shop. Beatniks and Cal Java sell artifacts in their venues and give all proceeds to Bridging the Gap. KG Shelley, a long-time volunteer, reconciles and banks the money, prices store items, and does other odd jobs. “I love working with this project,” she says. “As a retiree, it’s a wonderful way to give back.”

The biggest event supporting Bridging the Gap is the annual Walk4Water 2K or 5K walk in Chico. The sixth walk takes place April 5, 2014 at 8:30 a.m. in Bidwell Park. “This is a wonderful community and family event,” says Gail Nottingham, who has volunteered with Bridging the Gap since its inception. As well as assisting with the walk, she does computer tasks and designed and updates the organization’s website. Nottingham says, “The passion Shirley has is so contagious it helps you see that one person can make a difference. She’s shown many that one person can change people’s lives.”

art-0414-water3The walk has stations where children and adults do hands-on activities; other stations educate about clean water and water conservation. Participants are asked to bring a bucket. At the halfway point, they fill their buckets with water from the creek and carry them to the finish line. The walk is held rain or shine; this raises participants’ awareness that people in developing nations carry their water from the borehole or well to their dwelling regardless of weather.

Shirley’s favorite quote is by Helen Keller: Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much. We could not carry on Bridging the Gap without our wonderful volunteer support,” she says. Over 100 volunteers assist with the program. Fifth Son in Chico designs and prints the shirts for Walk4Water. Local television and radio stations advertise it. A local Brownie troop will help with clean-up, and plans to donate $400 from their Girl Scout cookie sales. International Baccalaureate Program and PV High School sold Klean Kanteens and donated $800. Each year, volunteers are honored at an appreciation dinner.

Prior to founding Bridging the Gap, Shirley and Grant owned North Valley Swim School where she taught swimming and water safety to children and adults for 35 years. The school started by using a friend’s pool. With money saved from the lessons, she and Grant built a pool in their yard where they stayed until the city said the program had gotten too big to be in a private home. The couple bought property on East Avenue and had 19 employees. “We taught thousands of people to swim,” she recalls.

Shirley puts herself fully into what she does. She shares her passion in interactions with people, on Facebook, and on the blog that she writes during her biking trips. She has made a lasting contribution to the Chico community and to thousands in developing nations.

To contact Shirley Adams about Bridging the Gap and Walk4Water, call (530) 342-5746 or visit the website at

Carolyn Warnemuende
About Carolyn Warnemuende

Author Carolyn Warnemuende has two daughters and five grandchildren, and lives with her husband in Redding. She writes parenting and educational articles, sponsors a school in Uganda, and visits Africa twice a year. She receives great joy in taking daily care of her four-year-old granddaughter who was adopted from Ethiopia.

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