Volunteer of the Year Scott Bennett Fosters Cross-Cultural Unity and Understanding

Scott, right, with Tim German, who organized the mission to support Aasha India, take time for a photo in front of a plaque acknowledging the completion of the water filtration project.

This fall, Scott Bennett, senior IT engineer in Columbia Falls, Montana, journeyed halfway around the world with a team of eight volunteers — including his son and brother-in-law. They were traveling to help address a critical need for clean water in the remote rural village of Kattakur, India, as part of a project through Aasha India, an organization that promotes development and infrastructure projects in the country’s most impoverished regions.

“Clean water is essential for health and quality of life, and it’s something we often take for granted in the U.S.,” Scott says. “But it's not a guarantee in so many areas of the world.”

Kattakur is located in the middle of the remote rolling hills of Telangana state in east-central India. Although the state’s bustling urban centers are known for their robust and growing IT software businesses, the local economy is driven primarily by agriculture. Small, rural villages like Kattakur dot the region.

“The villagers use a central well to draw their water,” Scott says. “There was no plumbing infrastructure and no water filtration system.”

Image of Scott, right, with his son Brendan at a church dedication ceremony in Kattakur.

Scott, right, and his son Brendan attend a church dedication ceremony in Kattakur.

For three days, Scott and the volunteer team dug trenches and installed a water filter using reverse osmosis. Although they brought a few specialized tools, the team mostly relied on equipment that was available locally.

“We taught ourselves how to do this type of work,” Scott says. “When we were done, a local plumbing technician reviewed and approved our project. Everyone was so grateful. It was truly a heartwarming and life-changing experience.”

Although villagers still manually retrieve water from the central well, they now have confidence it’s clean and healthy.

"Scott returned with a deeper understanding of the culture in these smaller villages,” says Krystal Gladeau, IT product owner, Analytics, who nominated Scott for the Volunteer of the Year award. “He’s an advocate for cross-cultural understanding and unity, and hopefully his work will inspire more people to participate in these types of endeavors.”

For his dedication to human services, civic involvement and cultural growth, Scott was named one of our 2023 Volunteers of the Year.

Image of Anna, another Aasha volunteer, standing in the main road running through Kattakur.

Anna, another Aasha volunteer, stands in the main road running through Kattakur.


Tell us a bit about your day job.

I came over from Plum Creek and have been here for 16 years. I do software development, mainly related to data analytics and business intelligence. I mostly support Timberlands but work with other businesses and functions as needed. Overall, I’ve worked in IT for over 20 years and received my undergraduate degree in computer information systems from DeVry University in Phoenix.

What did you think when you found out about the award?

I had no idea I’d been nominated and wondered at first if it was a mistake. Many people across the company do great volunteer work, so it was humbling to be recognized. I’m truly honored by the recognition and the opportunity to create visibility for Aasha India, the organization I volunteered with.

Image of Aasha volunteers lifting the last piece of roofing material to the top of the building that houses the water filtration system they installed.

Aasha volunteers lift the last piece of roofing material to the top of the building that houses the water filtration system they installed.

What motivated you to volunteer?

My sister lives in Utah, and her church had previously supported the local chapter of Aasha India, so I was familiar with the organization and thought it was a great cause. Last summer, my brother-in-law asked if my son Brendon and I wanted to join a volunteer group he was putting together. Many of us, including me, had never been overseas.

We only had a few months to plan for the trip, and there was a lot to do: Getting passports and travel visas, taking crash courses in plumbing and cultural sensitivity training. Much of it was new to me.

What’s your favorite part of the work?

The deep cultural immersion, especially witnessing the contrast between city and village life in India. It was eye-opening to realize how many conveniences we take for granted aren’t available elsewhere. Now, I share my experience passionately. I aim to be an advocate and encourage others to understand the immense need this work addresses.

Image of Scott and Brendan with the group of Aasha India volunteers from the U.S.

Scott and Brendan with the group of Aasha India volunteers from the U.S.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to give back but doesn’t know how/where?

Simply starting is the big thing. Even a gesture of support that seems small can make a big difference to someone else.

What’ve you learned by volunteering?

This work has taught me a great deal of humility. It’s helped me live more contentedly in the moment, appreciating what’s available. It’s shown me that many things we consider necessary might not be as crucial as we think by emphasizing the importance of focusing on life’s basics.

What’s next in your volunteer plans for the year ahead?

I’ll devote my efforts more locally, but I want to continue to support Aasha India. Our TREE-mendous Matching Gifts program is such a great opportunity to give back, both in matching volunteer hours and financial donations. It’s great to work for a company committed to the community, and I’d like to encourage everyone to take advantage of it.