Giving Faith a New Meaning

"Wow, those cookies look good," I thought to myself as I rounded the corner of the mailroom. Straight ahead, a sign reads, "Make Someone's Day Great," ...but it is upside down. Now, that's a clever way to get people's attention. Curiously, I approach the table of people thoughtfully writing their own authentic memos onto cards. The person manning this makeshift Hallmark sits behind the table, arms crossed, a look of pure contentment and satisfaction across his bearded face. Who the heck is this guy with a ponytail, willingly caring about the number of smiles that might result from a brief note of encouragement or affirmation? Impressive, I thought....as I began a card of my own.

Rick Hill weekly devotes his time to sitting in a booth in Warren Hall with cards, stamps, and markers, encouraging students to accept his free chocolate chip cookies and then take the time to make a thoughtful card for someone they care about. The mere consideration that someone would go to great lengths to quietly touch the lives of people he does not even know is remarkable.

As a faculty advisor on the Leadership Team of the Center for Service Learning, Rick is profoundly involved in the Alternative Spring Break program at JMU and namely, with Habitat for Humanity. Ten years ago, he began the alternative break program on a small trip to Florida, where they helped clean and restore the devastating damage that Hurricane Andrew caused. The program has been developing ever since with 250 people going on 22 different trips this year.

"Rick is a key ingredient to its (alternative break's) success," said a member of the alternative spring break leadership team. In addition, Rick places no limitation on those who are financially unable to go on the trips. His own motto is, "If a student wants to go, we'll find the resources." He uses his own contacts and sources to find sponsors for students to have the opportunity to go.

"Students start signing up for alternative Spring Breaks at midnight the night before," adds the leadership team member. "It's incredible to think that students are not sleeping all night long so that they can sign up for a service project. Rick got there at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning when kids had been up all night waiting. He got there with cookies and his guitar and sat with them in the hallway and he sang with everybody until the doors opened at 8:00. He said this was the most fun thing he had done all week. He was glowing when he talked about the experience."

Student Mike Masto describes Rick as "devoting himself 100 percent to the moment," being one of the only people he knows that brings himself wholeheartedly to each event or task. Rick's perseverance shined through when he took a sabbatical to write a book entitled, When In Doubt. He traveled to various colleges and universities, inquiring about individual faith journeys of young adults, using the responses and feedback to write a book designed to help those with ensuing questions and needs dealing with faith.

"It's hard to put into words the impact that he has on students around campus," adds Masto. "He's so cool, he can connect with students so easily. His music is a way for him to connect, his cookies are a way for him to connect. All these different students, yet he can form a personal relationship with almost anyone.

"Usually when you think of a minister, you think of someone who goes out and preaches most of the time, and all you hear are words. But through his little actions, Rick Hill shows his faith-it's not words we hear, but it's the gestures of love and ingenuity we see."

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