student with backpacksrick

Rick’s journey to being a transfer student at Gonzaga University is an unlikely one, but then again, much about Rick’s life has been unlikely. After growing up in poverty and occasional homelessness, surrounded by addiction and abuse, Rick dropped out of high school. He spent years working entry-level jobs, surviving paycheck to paycheck in an attempt to support his family.

In his forties, though, after driving past Spokane Community College countless times, Rick finally decided that he’d tried everything else, so he might as well try going back to school. So, in 2015, he got on a bus bound for SCC. While waiting at the bus plaza in downtown Spokane, however, Rick’s life took an unexpected turn. He met a homeless man his son’s age and discovered that the night before, all the man’s possessions, along with his backpack, had been stolen while he slept. Rick spent his last dollar buying lunch for the two of them and promised that if he came back the next day, Rick would bring him some basic supplies and food. Rick himself didn’t have much, but he knew his friends would be willing to help. Within 24 hours, after putting out a call on Facebook, Rick and his friends had gathered enough supplies to fill 25 backpacks with food, toiletries and gift cards. When he went back to the plaza the next day, the man didn’t return, but Rick knew that there were others who needed help, so he walked around downtown handing out backpacks to others in need. And thus Giving Back Packs was formed. Since that first backpack, Rick and his growing base of social media supporters and donors have handed out more than 1,300 backpacks to homeless people in the Spokane region. Rick has also helped connect people with jobs, housing and other critical resources.

student carrying backpacksA few days after that fateful encounter at the bus plaza, Rick did make it to Spokane Community College, where he enrolled as a transfer student. After a lifetime of feeling that he “wasn’t worthy of a good life,” a new world of opportunity opened up to him at SCC. He loved the personal connection he had with the faculty and the feeling that so many people cared about his success. Like many students at the Community Colleges of Spokane, Rick is a first generation, non-traditional student, and he enrolled at SCC looking for a brighter future. Rick’s experience with Giving Back Packs showed him a path forward, and he says that rather than looking for another job, he wants to lead by example to “inspire and motivate people to be part of the solution.” He says that, “If I can do it, anyone can” and that your prior life experience “doesn’t have to define you.” Rick is spreading this message to others around him, including his son, who was also inspired to enroll at SCC, and Rick and his son graduated on the very same day this spring! His daughter has also since enrolled at Spokane Falls Community College.

In looking for his next step, Rick knew he wanted to finish his education, and his son encouraged him to apply at Gonzaga University. While initially hesitant, Rick looked back over his success at SCC and realized that the only thing that could limit his success was him, so he completed the application. He was shocked and amazed when he learned that not only had he been accepted at Gonzaga, but he had received a scholarship for full tuition. So, two days after completing his last class at Spokane Community College, Rick arrived at GU for new student orientation. Since then, he’s thrown himself into life as a Zag, including attending his first GU men’s basketball game!

He’s determined to complete the journey he started on that bus ride to SCC and is grateful to everyone who has made it possible. Rick was a recipient of the Biella Scholarship through the CCS Foundation, and he says that having so many people who believe in him is what keeps him going. He knows that “quitting isn’t an option” because he wants to prove to the scholarship donors who supported him that they made a good investment.

For the first time in his life, Rick truly believes that a brighter future is possible for himself and his family. None of this would have been possible without the generous support of Foundation donors, and Rick is inspired to continue paying forward the blessings he has received.

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Photos by Jennifer DeBarros Photography.

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