Winning Generosity

Submitted Photo

After winning the opportunity for paid volunteerism from his employer, Minnesotan Rick Pals traveled to the Dominican Republic to personally distribute meals packaged by nonprofit Feed My Starving Children.
Watch a video of Rick Pals’ Dominican Republic trip.

With a 40-pound box on one shoulder, Rick Pals ’79 walked across a dirt field to deliver meals to the families of Batey 106, an impoverished village in the Dominican Republic.

Feeding the poor was a new part of his Minnesota day job.

Pals won an essay contest sponsored by his workplace, Deluxe Corporation, awarding pay to employees for 100 hours spent volunteering at a nonprofit. Pals, an IT administrator, chose Feed My Starving Children, which distributes nutrient-rich meals to malnourished children. A regular volunteer at their Twin Cities headquarters, Pals wanted to personally deliver food as part of his winning hours.

The adults of Batey 106 spend long days working on sugar plantations, so volunteers mostly saw the children. Snacks were devoured on the spot, which was why it surprised Pals to see that 14-year-old Armando still had his bag of peanuts when the two hiked a nearby hill.

They stopped to rest under a tree. The boy opened the bag and offered the snack to Pals.

“Here’s this hungry kid who could have kept them to himself, but the first thing he does is hand it to me,” Pals says, emotional at the memory. “Providing food consistently means these kids can stop worrying and think about other things. We’re giving people hope.”

Treasure Hunt


A banker by day, Greg Westra spends his evenings and weekends buying and selling antiques and running The Antique Locker in Rock Valley, Iowa.

Greg Westra ’89 recognized his first smart investment strategy in Okoboji’s Treasure Village. Working high school and college summers there, he noticed the busy antique flea markets springing up on holiday weekends and decided to try his own hand with secondhand treasures.

As a college student, antiquing provided both necessary income and community entertainment. Westra and his Colenbrander Hall wingmates would get excited when a new Ad-Visor arrived listing local garage sales. One summer Westra purchased the retired Spencer High School band uniforms at an auction, outfitting his entire wing for a year of events with their sister wing. “We even spent some money to get patches sewn on that said ‘Third West Colenbrander, a bunch of neat guys,’” Westra recalls.

Now co-owner and executive vice president of Premier Bank in Rock Valley, Iowa, Westra continues to support his community with his hobby. He owns The Antique Locker, a former meat locker turned into an antique warehouse, and two summers ago he added the old Pember Drug store, which he transformed into the town’s museum.

Westra eagerly purchases anything historically significant to Rock Valley from all over the country, including old signs from businesses, hotel furniture from the 19th century, and original bank equipment from Sioux County banks. “It’s important to me not only to help other people but to save a piece of time and bring it back to where it belongs,” he says.

Critical Care


Becky Hille was named the 2015 Nurse of the Year by the National PACE Association in recognition of the exceptional care she provides her patients.

Becky (Swart ’09) Hille was so busy managing her 65-patient caseload as a registered nurse for Milwaukee’s Community Care that she didn’t realize she was being watched. So she was shocked when she learned she had received the 2015 Nurse of the Year Award from the National PACE Association (NPA). Co-workers who had noticed her exceptional care of a patient in need nominated her and praised her work.

Hille, one of Northwestern’s first Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates, was part of a core team of caregivers for the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), a Medicare and Medicaid program that offers holistic care to senior citizens with ongoing physical needs who live at home.

Although it went far beyond her typical patient involvement, Hille jumped on the suggestion of her team’s doctor to attend oncology appointments with an advanced cancer patient who lacked support from friends or family. Hille began accompanying the woman, helping her navigate medical information and offering a listening ear. In the process, the patient exceeded expectations for her response to treatments—and Hille discovered a sweet woman underneath a tough exterior.

Hille received the NPA’s prestigious award at its national conference in Philadelphia in October. The award is given annually to one nurse selected from among those nurses serving in more than 100 PACE programs throughout the United States.

Leading Worship in China


Hannah Cornthwaite leads a Beijing congregation that includes worshipers from Australia, Europe, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the U.S.

The Rev. Hannah Cornthwaite ’10 was raised Baptist, joined the Roman Catholic Church, learned about Reformed Christianity at Northwestern, and was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood.

Now she pastors a congregation in Beijing, China, where multiple denominations gather together under constant threat of government surveillance.

“I believe each denomination tells us something about the kingdom of God,” she says. “What matters to this congregation is the community it has formed. I think this is the future of the church.”

Because it is self-governing, Congregation of the Good Shepherd (COGS) is categorized as a “worshiping community.” Only foreign passport holders are permitted to attend; welcoming Chinese nationals as a recognized “church” would require heavy monitoring, money beyond their means, and a loss of freedom.

“There is always a chance the government could send police to check in at any time,” she says. “While we have to be careful not to say or do things that would trigger them, as long as we follow the rules, the government doesn’t interfere.”

Services at COGS have a Western feel, Cornthwaite says, though their liturgy blends the different Christian traditions. The music is purposefully multicultural, and the congregation affirms their faith weekly by reciting creeds from around the world.

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