On a map, 17-year-old Max DeCook is thousands of miles from his troubles — an ocean away from a past that he has put behind him and instead looking toward the future of Eternal Water, a company he co-founded.

DeCook has spent the past few months in Ghana, a shade under 5,500 miles east of his hometown of Braselton, organizing and building a water facility to help make fresh water more accessible to nearby residents.

The idea of a business began with a family friend and Ghanaian native Stephen Aboagye meeting with the DeCook family.

During the first visit, they discussed potentially setting up a business in Ghana because of how much growth the country has experienced.

“We told Max it was our job to help him succeed,” said Andrea, Max’s mother. “That was one of the reasons we wanted to support him in this.”

Both DeCook and Aboagye decided to address clean water, which is a problem for residents in Ghana because of the high salt content in the water supply.

Initially, they planned on buying and retrofitting an existing water facility to house the newly formed Eternal Water company. However, advice from his father changed his mind.

“He said for me to go with my gut,” DeCook said. “I thought we could build one from scratch. It just felt right to me.”

For the past few months, they have transformed a plot of land they purchased into the makings of a two-story structure that will have equipment on the first floor and a four-bedroom, apartment-style living quarters on the second quarter.

“This is my baby,” DeCook said. “We’ve taken it from just a piece of land and are making something out of it.”

DeCook spends most of the time in Ghana, but has come back to select the logo for Eternal Water, which was designed by an art class at West Hall High School in Oakwood, Ga.

But before he made his trek to western Africa, he battled internal conflicts.

As a student, DeCook bounced around multiple schools, first at Mill Creek High School as a freshman, then finishing his ninth-grade year at Riverside Military Academy.

“I wasn’t really on top of things my ninth-grade year and didn’t really enjoy school,” DeCook said. “Going to military school was something else. It helped me pass ninth grade, but I was running with the wrong crowd.”

DeCook said he was under strict supervision as a boarding student at Riverside, which helped improve his grades.

“I came back during the summer and had my ups and downs doing whatever I wanted during the summer,” DeCook said. “I didn’t really come home or talk to my mother.”

His parents came to the conclusion that he needed a break. DeCook then went on a trip to Africa to allow him to clear his head and start fresh.

“At first I didn’t want to go and considered walking out of the airport, but I saw my mother crying and couldn’t do that,” DeCook said. “It ended being a great trip that I learned a lot from. It was an eye-opening experience for me to see how blessed I am and how much different it is over there.”

DeCook came back and returned to his previous ways. Once again, his parents looked for a way to break him out of his funk and decided to send him to Utah to attend a therapeutic school for four months.

The moment that he remembers as life-altering is the night he was arrested and went to jail. This past August during the eclipse, DeCook passed out in a neighbor’s yard.

“I saw where my life was going to be and said, ‘I can’t do this,” DeCook said. “I always feared whether I would be successful in my future or a bum in the street. That was something that I constantly thought about, and it worried me so much.”

DeCook settled into Braselton Christian Academy, a school devoted to helping students grow academically and in their character and preparation outside of school.

As an incentive to keep him on the right path, his parents wanted to get him involved in a business of some sort to make him accountable. In order to do that, he had to graduate on Dec. 15, exactly a semester earlier than they had anticipated.

“He worked hard and we made sure that we knew where he was and encouraged his success,” Braselton Christian Academy founder Penney Smith said. “He was here early in the morning, stepped up and was motivated to get where he needed to be.”

DeCook plans on having the facility up and running by June with the goal of providing not only water to local residents, but also opportunity.

I graduated from Brookwood High School and Georgia Southern University with a degree in Journalism. I cover news and education for the largest school system in the state of Georgia.