When The Last Well founder Todd Phillips stepped onto the barge that would become his home for a month this fall, he had no idea what kinds of challenges he would face. Phillips started with a fundraising goal that sounded insurmountable: $2,290,000. But regardless of the personal cost, he was committed to his mission of living on Lake Ray Hubbard until enough funds were raised to bring clean water to everyone in Liberia.
With help from thousands of donors here in Rockwall and all over the world, Phillips surpassed his goal after 28 days on the lake. The Last Well can now fund wells and filtration systems that will save 500,000 Liberians from thirst and disease.
One of the key elements to the successful fundraiser was the coverage it received in the local media. Here are some of the stories that spread the word about the man on the lake and his mission.
Phillips’ “Hope Floats” barge set sail on October 10, 2018. Representatives from local Dallas news network WFAA and Rockwall newspapers Blue Ribbon News and The Rockwall Herald Banner all came to document the beginning of his journey. “We need a story of hope. We need a Neil Armstrong first man on the moon moment,” Phillips told WFAA reporter Sebastian Robertson for their article and regional news broadcast.
Blue Ribbon News editor Austin Wells and Herald Banner reporter Landon Fisher each took a trip out to the barge by boat so that Phillips could show them his new living quarters. Blue Ribbon News shared a live video on Facebook documenting Phillips’ first day on the barge and introducing the fundraising goal to the Rockwall public. Phillips gave a live demonstration of the Sawyer water filtration system he was using for all of his drinking and bathing while living on the lake. The same water filters are distributed to Liberians by The Last Well to help reduce waterborne disease.
The Rockwall Herald Banner explained the reasoning behind such an unconventional fundraiser idea. ““We thought this could really get attention for what we’re doing, and what God’s doing in Liberia,” Phillips said in their article. “We have immediate access to millions of gallons of relatively clean water, right here, and they don’t. That’s not right.”
After an eventful first day, Phillips decided to create a live Facebook video from the lake before spending his first night on the barge. While the video initially only had a handful of viewers, it soon started to spread like wildfire. People shared The Well’s mission across social media and Facebook became the mouthpiece calling for much-needed donations.
Spreading the Word
Local marketing company VitalStorm has partnered with The Last Well and donated to their efforts in Liberia for several years. To help Phillips reach his goal as quickly as possible, VitalStorm shared an in-depth blog post documenting the conditions Phillips had to endure on the barge and his steadfast commitment. “I feel that this is a calling on my life,” Phillips said in their article. “I’m in until the end. This thing will get done, and there will be nothing that keeps me from getting to that goal.”
As his Facebook live videos continued to soar in popularity, other Dallas news sources picked up on the revolutionary story of the man living on the lake. D Magazine published an article humorously headlined “A Crazy Guy in Rockwall is Stuck on a Boat.”
The Dallas Morning News also shared Phillips’ experience riding out a particularly brutal storm. Phillips told reporter Dana Branham he had to stand upright inside of a Port-o-Potty for an hour and a half while rain lashed his tent and waves rocked his barge.
Reaching the Goal
On November 5, 2018, Phillips reached and surpassed his $2.3 million fundraising goal during a Facebook live broadcast. He had many reasons to celebrate: Liberians would experience life-giving clean water across the country, Americans gave generously to The Last Well mission, and he could finally return to dry land and to his wife and family before Thanksgiving.
At the end of his final fundraising Facebook video, Phillips did a backflip off of the barge to commemorate the end of his journey. The video has been viewed more than 38,000 times.
Landing the Barge
The next morning, Phillips returned his barge to the shores of Lake Ray Hubbard. Reporters from CBS Dallas/Fort Worth, WFAA, Blue Ribbon News, The Rockwall Herald Banner, and VitalStorm were waiting to greet him. As soon as he stepped onto dry land, Phillips headed straight for his wife, Julie. They embraced after 28 days apart.
Following his return to shore, D Magazine updated readers with a new headline: “Crazy Guy on Boat in Rockwall Reaches Fundraising Goal.” The Dallas Morning News also alerted area readers about Phillips’ success. “We’re going to see the last well drilled in the last village,” Phillips said in their article. “It’s going to happen. This barge initiative, this Hope Floats barge initiative, got us ever closer to that.”
Julie Anne Wells is a copywriter for VitalStorm, a marketing company based in Rockwall, TX and a partner to The Last Well. She has a Journalism degree from Harding University. She cultivated her passion for writing about local events, businesses, and charities while working as a journalist in Rockwall for many years. When she isn’t typing away at her keyboard, you can usually find her curled up with a good book.