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Steamboat Magazine

Generation U brings high schoolers, hygiene and help to Uganda

09/08/2023 07:10AM ● By Christian Bright

(Photo: Generation U Athletes signing their names into the freshly poured concrete, commemorating a job well done. Courtesy of Nich Cornwell.)

This story is the first in a series that will chronicle local nonprofit Generation U, as the organization embarks on season two of its mission to bring clean water to Uganda.

Water is the essence of life. A basic need for survival; something Americans don’t have to think about. We use it for bathing and watering our lawns. We fish the Yampa River. We ski on it at Howelsen Hill and Steamboat Resort. But access to clean and safe drinking water is not always a standard. 

Joel Cobb took his first trip to Uganda in 2009 to do construction and painting at an orphanage. He found a passion for the people and continued to return. In 2019, he created the nonprofit, Generation U, with the mission to bring clean, safe water to every person in Uganda, one of the most water-poor countries in the world.

A football coach at Steamboat Springs High School, Joel turned to his co-coach, Nich Cornwell, to be his co-founder.

“We believe serving or helping other people is neutral,” Joel says. “It doesn't matter who you are, where you live, what background you come from, what race you are, what beliefs you have. I believe if you’re alive and breathing, you have a purpose, you have connection, so you are the generation to make an impact.” 

Generation U made its first trip to Uganda in July 2021 when a team of 14 went over to see a well that was built 11 months prior in Magali, Uganda. They handed out items like glasses, shoes and clothes but understood that what was really going to save lives was water.

“What became very apparent was illness, their ailments, their sicknesses,” Nich says. “Many were not treatable through first aid or basic field medic-type of support. In reality, water was almost always related to every single one of them.” 

On the way home from the trip, Nich conceived of a “ten-ten” project to provide ten wells in ten months. He and Joel decided to bring Generation U to their high school athletes with the idea of applying their passion of coaching and mentoring into helping others. 

“The playing field is a place where many of these young men are honing their skills and craft, and not only scoring touchdowns, but also learning the value and tools that are necessary and consistent through all walks of life such as hard work, discipline, accountability, teamwork and leadership,” Nich says.

Ultimately, nine student athletes chose to participate in the project. The program was developed so the community and local businesses could invest and support their local youth while at the same time providing water to 76,000 people through new wells that the nonprofit would facilitate the building of.

Nich and Joel developed a pipeline for the athletes that would serve as an educational experience and community outreach project. In the first year, the students spoke with local drilling experts, visited water treatment facilities and met with local organizations, like the Rotary Club and other local businesses. The program provides insight as to how clean water is essential for life, while also providing education on water resources in Northern Colorado and how to apply those in Uganda.

Last February, the Generation U athletes visited Uganda for ten days. They were able to watch the wells that they had raised money for being built, as well as aid in the construction process. They led hygiene classes in small villages, teaching the importance of clean water and sharing how contaminated water can spread illness and disease. And of course, they played soccer, providing a valuable human connection between high schoolers from Steamboat and village people in Uganda.

The result of the “ten-ten” project was that all ten wells were funded in two days and were built by the beginning of January 2022, providing 11 wells and water to 80,000 people. Generation U was off and running.

Now in season two, Generation U athletes aim to provide 160,000 people with water in Uganda and continue the hygiene program. This year, the program has more than doubled, with 20 athletes participating. So far, athletes have had speaking engagements, learned from other water drillers, and participated in a “lunch and learn” at Honey Stinger. 

Again this year, Generation U athletes will spend their Blues Break in February in Uganda, visiting and working on the wells they funded, helping to teach the hygiene course, learning about the people in Uganda, and forming lasting connections worldwide.

Follow along with season two of Generation U right here or by visiting to learn more about the nonprofit and how you can get involved. Next up, we’ll speak with several of the student athletes who participated in last February’s trip, to hear about their experiences.