Andrea Brooks and Samantha Cline met when they participated in a new volunteer organization for high school adolescents in South Jersey. Staying local for college, Andrea continued to volunteer with the organization as an adult leader. Andrea and Sam reunited in 2009 because they both felt a void; they longed for a sense of belonging to a group that made a real impact. After college, they couldn't find any group volunteer opportunities with their adult peers. They missed meeting new people, learning about different organizations and causes, and most importantly, being transformed by meaningful experiences helping those in need. This lead them to conceive the idea of AQUA Corps.
Having never started a non-profit organization before, they blindly navigated the process. From incorporation to obtaining tax-exempt status with the IRS, they completed each application on their own; without the assistance of a lawyer! Andrea chose the name AQUA as an acronym for the Adult Quest for Unity and Altruism. AQUA launched it's first volunteer event in November 2009 called the Thanksgiving Celebration for the Homeless. This annual event is so popular today, it has to be capped at one hundred volunteers! In the coming years, AQUA grew as a result of members sharing their volunteer experiences peaking interest in others. AQUA has over three hundred volunteers in the greater Philadelphia and South Jersey area. AQUA sets itself apart by hosting volunteer events that are truly unique and memorable.
Founder and President
From a young age, Andrea committed to helping our community’s most vulnerable and socially disadvantaged members. Guided by her beliefs that respect and dignity are fundamental human rights, she founded AQUA Corps in 2009 soon after graduating college. From its inception, AQUA Corps has provided an impactful, yet flexible way for altruistic adults to volunteer in the community and share ideas.
Andrea’s community service work has met with substantial and sustained recognition. In 2006, Andrea served as keynote speaker at the annual volunteer luncheon for the AIDS Coalition and was honored with the President's Award for outstanding volunteerism. She received the Outstanding Leader Award, the Making a Difference Award, the Edward J. Bloustein Community Service Award, and the Outstanding Citizenship and Leadership Award in 2009 alone. A licensed social worker in Philadelphia and New Jersey, Andrea has worked with Philadelphia’s services for the homeless for the past five years. Her compassion, leadership, and dedication in social work earned her the Jack In A Box Award from the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services in January 2015.
As much as Andrea appreciates the many official acknowledgments of her work, her motivation has remained constant and heartfelt: To live a meaningful life of service—and in doing so, improve our community and world one person, one event at a time. For example, a walk she organized in Camden to reduce domestic violence raised more than $11,000.
This principle of making a difference has been a cornerstone of both her volunteer and professional experience (the latter has included work with senior citizens, adult learning and leadership programs, interfaith work, and hospital social work).
Andrea received her associate’s degree from Camden County College in New Jersey, her bachelor’s degree in social work from Rutgers University-Camden, and her master’s degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania.
In the scant time she is not working, planning an AQUA Corps event, or running one, Andrea likes to watch hockey and spend time with her dog, Charlie.
Prior to joining AQUA, Adrian has had experience with multiple non-profit organizations, including designing marketing plans for the American Red Cross, improving the efficiency of end-to-end transactions for a Habitat for Humanity's ReStore, and mentoring his Little through the Big Brother Big Sister program. Adrian has found that the benefit of volunteering stems from not only providing for the local community but creating lasting relationships with others. His values align with AQUA's goal to enrich the overall volunteer experience while creating a positive impact on the community. "One defining quality that I especially admire is how passionate, close-knit, and engaged the volunteers are. You can tell that everyone is dedicated to helping out over the long haul." Adrian received a Bachelor's Degree in Business with a minor in Entrepreneurship from Wake Forest University. He currently works in the finance industry and is pursuing a Master's Degree in Information Systems with Drexel University.
Gerald Davis holds over 25 years experience as a small business owner and operator in the construction field. He is a graduate of West Chester University in Business Administration and Vale Technical Institute. Gerald was featured in the list of Top 100 Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies for three consecutive years in The Philadelphia's Business Journal. Most recently, he handled small-business grant applications for New Jersey Economic Development Authority after Hurricane Sandy. Gerald found AQUA Corps in the fall of 2012 through MeetUp.com and instantly became entrenched in all of AQUA's activities. "I was volunteering for different places sporadically. The first day I volunteered with AQUA I knew that I found my place and I would be committing to AQUA's mission." From organizing volunteers to making deliveries, Gerald provides hands on support in all aspects of AQUA Corps.
Meher has over 30 years of experience in the pharmaceutical, environmental, and chemical industries in the areas of engineering and automation, validation, compliance, preventive maintenance and troubleshooting in an industrial environment. Meher holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering from D College of Engineering & Technology, Karachi Pakistan, and did his graduate studies in Chemical Engineering at Drexel University. "I was looking for an organization to become affiliated with that would allow me to lend my services towards helping those less fortunate. I found AQUA Corps through Meetup.com. I was drawn to AQUA Corps because the organization's goals are aligned with my own. In addition to cooking, I also enjoy swimming, biking and working out. I have two wonderful, and handsome, Eagle Scouts who challenge me physically, mentally and spiritually on daily basis. Ahsan, the older son, just graduated from LaSalle University summa cum laude in Biochemistry; and Azeem, my younger son, has full scholarship from Air Force to study Environmental Engineering at Drexel. They are the focal point of my life." Meher lives in Philadelphia.
Dan excels in medical instruments sales and has a 12-year background in helping to feed the homeless. Dan joined AQUA Corps in 2012 and immediately became a leader. He created AQUA's bi-weekly homeless outreach event and manages the organization's financial records. Dan emanates the mission and energy of AQUA Corps.
In the Spring of 2012, AQUA volunteers were painting the kitchen at St. Paul's Church in Camden. It remains a special day in AQUA history because many of AQUA's leaders began volunteering with AQUA on that day. AQUA partnered with Dan Higgins of Dan Higgins Flooring to complete the kitchen renovations. Towards the end of the day, a parishioner of St. Paul's asked questions about the volunteers to learn who they were, and how they managed to end up in this church to help remodel the dilapidated kitchen in Camden. Andrea raved about AQUA's mission and AQUA volunteers. The man gave Andrea a phone number of a woman who ran a food bank in Camden. He said she was in desperate need of volunteers and asked if there was something AQUA could do to help. Andrea immediately replied that it was AQUA's mission to help non-profits facing challenges! Before AQUA was even finished panting that afternoon, Andrea received a call from Debbie Realey, the Executive Director of TOUCH New Jersey asking for AQUA's help.
First, AQUA coordinated a beautification day at the TOUCH NJ food pantry. Volunteers spent an afternoon cleaning, moving items, and putting inspirational phrases on the wall. Debbie asked AQUA to make the pantry feel more welcoming and positive. TOUCH and AQUA instantly knew that they shared similar visions and were starting a great partnership. After the beautification project, Debbie asked for help with weekly Philabundance food rescues. She was afraid the pantry would no longer be able to receive the food because they did not have the volunteers to pick up the donations. AQUA began to coordinate the weekly food rescue from Willingboro Shop-Rite. Lastly, AQUA began to supply volunteers to help staff the open food bank hours every Wednesday. AQUA organized a Thanksgiving basket drive and an Easter basket drive for families of the TOUCH. Andrea became a board member of TOUCH and the partnership continued to prosper over the next year. Coincidentally, AQUA had recently gained a new volunteer who was submerging himself in his new found passion. Gerald Davis quickly became an AQUA board member and then Vice President; he coordinated many of the events related to TOUCH.
At the beginning of Summer 2013, Debbie announced that she was moving to Arizona. However, she felt confident that AQUA would continue TOUCH's mission. Initially, the thought was to merge the AQUA and TOUCH organizations together. AQUA then realized that the two organizations have separate and distinct missions. Less than a month after Debbie resigned, it was learned that the church in which TOUCH rented space was put up for sale. TOUCH was in jeopardy of losing their home. Both TOUCH and AQUA volunteers alike raised funds to secure a new space. In the end, Urban Promise purchased the building and allowed TOUCH to continue to rent space. The $7,000 raised from these efforts was used to purchase much needed refrigerator equipment.
After it was decided to keep the two organizations separate, Gerald Davis became the new Executive Director of TOUCH. Gerald was perfect for the role, considering his valuable experience in many areas relevant to TOUCH's operation, such as equipment, construction, and more. It was important to both AQUA and TOUCH that a special and unique partnership remain between the two organizations. TOUCH continues to provide food for several AQUA events such as Homeless Outreach and Sunday Dinner at St. Paul's while AQUA continues to provide TOUCH with volunteers. AQUA volunteers still continue to rescue food each week from Willingboro Shop-Rite. Almost two years later, Dan Higgins still spends his Tuesdays rescuing food from various stores. In fact, over half of TOUCH's Board of Directors began as AQUA volunteers. Many special relationships have developed from the AQUA / TOUCH partnership. Andrea continues to serve on the board of TOUCH. The most important element shared between AQUA / TOUCH is the passion to make a difference helping others in Camden.