By BRAD AMERSBACH
Duke Sports Information
Entering the 2013 season, the Duke Football team will look for Perry Simmons to exemplify his leadership, work ethic, and dedication to excellence as a member of the team’s offensive line. Off the field however, Simmons hopes to utilize these same characteristics for an even greater cause.
Simmons has excelled as an offensive lineman throughout his tenure with Duke. In addition to his 37 consecutive starts, which leads the ACC among active players, he was named All-ACC, Offensive Lineman of the Week, and to the All-Bowl Team in 2012. Simmons has also seen success in the classroom, carrying an impressive 3.83 GPA as a Civil Engineering major and collecting a plethora of academic honors, including All-ACC Academic, first team Capital One Academic All-District III, and Academic All-American.
Entering his fifth year for the Blue Devils, the 6-5, 300-pound offensive tackle came to the realization that his collegiate career as a student-athlete was quickly coming to a close. Although he admitted the National Football League had crossed his mind, the judicious Simmons wanted to make sure an alternative was available if it came time to move on from football.
“In the Spring, I started to think, ‘I’m heading into my fifth year. I don’t really know what my future holds,’ so I started thinking about what I wanted to do after I graduated,” Simmons said. “I’ve been volunteering for Habitat for Humanity a lot. In the past, I spoke with someone there and they talked about their time in the Peace Corps I thought I might enjoy serving.”
For Simmons, Habitat for Humanity was not his only involvement in philanthropic work. Last May, when fellow offensive lineman Dave Harding suggested a trip to Ethiopia to assist in a well-digging project that would provide local communities with safe, sanitary water, Simmons and a slew of teammates jumped at the opportunity to help those in need. Only leaving the United States once prior to his trip to Ethiopia, Simmons was not sure what to expect, but he soon found the conditions in the country to be “eye-opening.”
“You get to see the real need. We passed by a stream where they were trolling their primary water from, and it was orange. When it rains, the water in the clay and the mud mixes, but they still have to drink it, because it’s their source. Not only that, they have to walk just under a mile to get there.”
Elaborating further on the experience, Simmons recounted the work he and his teammates completed in the well-digging process, which included carrying 50-pound bags of concrete to the primary water supply. Providing some perspective, Simmons went on to explain how local Ethiopians would regularly make the same trek to the stream with jugs to fill with water. When filled, these jugs could become nearly as heavy and awkward as the bags that Simmons and his teammates were carrying.
In combination with his time in Ethiopia and his contributions to Habitat for Humanity’s cause, Simmons found himself drawn to organizations with similar goals of helping those in need. After receiving an email from Water Missions International (WMI), Simmons decided to attend a presentation to learn more about the organization.
A non-profit group, WMI works to provide citizens of 49 countries and disaster areas with sustainable access to safe drinking water. Comprised of 32 full-time employees and 128 others spread around the country, the program also calls upon a number of volunteers to forward the organization’s mission. Simmons was intrigued by the foundation and took a proactive approach to learn more about how he could become involved.
“When I learned what they were about, it sounded like something I would enjoy doing, so I contacted their organization. I ended up getting in touch with Rogers [Hook].” Hook, a Senior Project Engineer for WMI invited Simmons to their Charleston, S.C., headquarters.
Simmons found the trip to South Carolina enlightening, learning more about the organization’s procedures and how he specifically could be utilized. In addition to his Civil Engineering background, his offensive lineman physique would be beneficial for the physical demands of WMI’s projects. Although Simmons’ involvement in the organization will not be solidified until after the football season concludes, he does have a general idea of how he could contribute to the group’s cause.
“I would be involved in some of the technical aspects of what [the organization] is doing,” Simmons said. “I’ve learned a little bit about how their system works, and I’m sure I would be involved in some of the physical installation, which is fine, because I really enjoy working outside.”
In addition to the philanthropic component of working with WMI, Simmons was also drawn to the organization’s emphasis on engineering. Nearly a quarter of WMI’s 33-person staff is made up of engineers, leading Simmons to believe he could employ the knowledge he gained through his studies at Duke.
“One of the main reasons why I would like to work with WMI, as opposed to some of the other organizations that do similar work, is because there is an engineering focus within the organization. I think I could apply some of the aspects that I’ve learned, being a Civil Engineering student.”
Simmons’ attention and focus to his education also coincides with the principles of WMI. Although the organization installs clean-water solutions, a heavy priority is placed on the building of community. Much of the community-building is done through an education program facilitated by WMI. Through educating local-leaders on sanitation processes and proper hygiene, the benefits of the organization are more sustainable and remain long after WMI facilitators leave the community.
According to WMI’s website, “Basic teachings include explanations of the importance of safe water, disinfection of water, proper hygiene practices to stop the spread of disease and the importance of proper sanitation. Training on proper storage of water, cleanliness of water containers, hand-washing, proper cooking methods and proper disposal of waste are also part of the comprehensive program.”
Following a conversation with Harding’s father, a field coordinator for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Simmons learned that simply providing water sanitation systems is not enough, and that teaching those in need plays an integral role in the process.
“I’d really like to get involved in the education end. I feel this might be a bigger issue. When I spoke with Dave’s dad about the water crisis, one of the major problems he faces is the education. It’s a huge component to getting people to practice safe behaviors.”
In many ways, the trip to Ethiopia was just as educational for Simmons as for the local community members he and his fellow teammates were assisting. Not only did the trip help Simmons determine a potential career path after college, the excursion was also beneficial from a team-building perspective. Simmons felt the time in Ethiopia was an unparalleled experience that allowed him to learn more about the character of his fellow teammates and create an even stronger bond among members of his team.
“Being in that kind of environment and being in a place you’ve never been before, with guys that you see in a certain context every day, you grow closer and you bond. I think that was huge for us. I would hope that some of the young guys would get a chance to make the trip.”
In both reflecting on his time in Ethiopia and looking forward to his future involvement with WMI, Simmons concisely and accurately described his involvement in humanitarian work.
“It’s definitely a transformative experience.”