During his summer breaks Chad worked on the river–primarily as a commercial shell diver for the cultured pearl industry, but also as a commercial fisherman and barge hand. Typically working miles away from home, he camped on the islands and shorelines of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to save money and fuel. It was during this time that Chad began to realize how neglected the rivers were, with the unsightly and toxic accumulation of trash along their banks.
At the age of 17, he started making calls to government agencies to notify them of the problem, assuming someone would take care of it. Year after year passed by and the problem only worsened. In 1997 Chad decided that, if no one else was going to clean up the river, he would.
In 1998 at the age of 23, Chad founded Living Lands & Waters. Today, the organization has grown to include a full staff and fleet of equipment. The crew averages nine states a year along the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio Rivers, as well as many of their tributaries. Since the project’s inception, Chad, his crew, and over 70,000 volunteers have collected 8 million pounds of debris from our nation’s greatest rivers. Most recently, Chad expanded the mission of the organization to include educational workshops, The MillionTrees Project, Adopt-a-River Mile, Invasive Species Removal, and The Great Mississippi River Cleanup.
Chad’s vision, charisma, non-stop work ethic and natural leadership have garnered him an abundance of awards and honors over the years. Most notably, Chad was the recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, America’s version of the Nobel Prize, in June 2002. Chad accepted this award in the United States Supreme Court in Washington D.C. with other award recipients: Rudolph Giuliani, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Lilly Tartikoff. In 2013, he was named CNN Hero of the Year. Chad is also the author of From the Bottom Up: One Man’s Crusade to Clean America’s Rivers.
Whenever he can get away from his rigorous work schedule, Chad enjoys fishing, hunting, skateboarding, snowboarding, wind surfing, and recycling used and salvaged materials by incorporating them into new projects.
- Helping to Clean America’s Rivers, From the Bottom Up
As the founder of America’s only “industrial strength” river clean-up organization, Living Lands & Waters, Chad tells a compelling and funny story about growing up on the river and how his river experiences led to his unique vision to clean up the Mississippi River. During his hour-long talk, Chad takes the audience out on one of the world’s greatest rivers – a journey filled with endless challenges and gripping adventures. His delivery is motivating, captivating, genuine and refreshingly spontaneous. From the darkness of underwater shell-diving to the brightness of open-air community clean-ups, Chad’s tale embodies the importance of setting goals (one river and one piece of garbage at a time) and illustrates how determination hard-work and persistence pays off. The river environment is relentlessly real and Chad brings the same up-front honesty to his presentation. Chad’s sincere enthusiasm is an uplifting wave for audiences of all ages as he relates his personal conviction to clean America’s rivers. Chad empowers the audience with his fascinating story and genuine compassion to make a difference.