“I think there’s a sense of respect that one small step or thought can have a lasting impact. Whether it’s the walk or just something people say to encourage somebody, you shouldn’t underestimate the value of the opportunity to impact people's lives.”
Those are the words of Ron Phipps, national speaker, principal broker and realtor at Phipps Realty. A former president of the National Association of Realtors, Phipps has held a few different titles in his life in realty since he received his broker’s license in 1978.
Three years prior to earning his license, in the spring of 1975, Phipps was a senior at Bishop Hendricken High School. This is when he came up with an event that would continue every year since. This was the annual hunger walk at Hendricken, an idea that he had because of a similar walk at his previous high school.
“I went to Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Missouri, for my freshman and sophomore years and they had done walks there for hunger on Holy Thursday or Good Friday,” Phipps said in an interview this week.
Phipps shared the suggestion of a Hendricken walk with Brother James K. Devlin and fellow student Jack McConnell, who is now the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island.
The first walk was 10 miles and obligatory for all students. The student body at Hendricken at the time was around 650, according to Phipps. The first walk raised $10,000 and was donated to the Christian Brothers organization in Chimbote, Peru.
Fast forward 45 years to Holy Thursday in 2019. Phipps was invited back last year for the 45th anniversary of the walk where he gave a talk to the kids participating. Fr. Robert L. Marciano, the current president of Hendricken and a classmate of Phipps in 1975. Marciano remembers Phipps and when the walk first began.
“He [Phipps] is a great guy. Ron was always energetic, enthusiastic, very bright and outgoing,” Marciano said. “The walk was a great idea and he went to Brother Devlin. We were glad to do it, Hendricken has always had a great spirit of helping people.”
Proceeds of the walk have continued to assist mission work outside of Rhode Island. Places such as Café Reconcile in New Orleans, Guadalupe Regional Middle School and Catholic Charities of Brownsville, Texas have received donations from the walk. Christian Brothers in Peru, and Fr. O’Dowd’s Nicaraguan Mission have also benefited from the money raised.
Now jump ahead one more year, to the spring of 2020, to this year's walk. At a time where events like this are getting cancelled all over the world because of COVID-19, the walk will continue. It’s a little different this time around. Hendricken has switched to a virtual walk.
The virtual hunger walk has been extended to one week, ending on Holy Thursday. To participate all you need to do is record yourself walking and you could leave a message, donate and post it to social media using the hashtag #MyHungerWalk.
“It’s just like the Ice Bucket Challenge. You walk and then you challenge and tag three people to do the challenge themselves,” said Michelle King, director of communications for Hendricken.
As of Monday, $6,000 had been raised, according to King. The #MyHungerWalk social media campaign has gone beyond the boundaries of Hendricken and its faculty and staff. Students’ family members have joined in and challenged others. Hendricken’s sister school, Bay View Academy, has even joined in on the campaign along with various Christian Brothers organizations around Rhode Island.
The campaign has even gone beyond the borders of Rhode Island. Donations and posts have appeared online using the hashtag #MyHungerWalk, and the initiative has reached cities such as Washington, D.C., Chicago and Seattle.
When this began 46 years ago on Holy Thursday 1975, Phipps just wanted to start a walk in order to raise money for those who were struggling and hungry. He never imagined it would still take place or that it would reach as far as it has.
“When you are 17 or 18 you have no sense of anything other than the immediate. So it was never an expectation that it would last beyond the one time,” Phipps said. “It’s great that it did and is it a pleasant surprise? Absolutely. We were basically replicating something that I saw work. Time is an appropriate measure of whether something is a good idea or not. If an idea doesn’t have value, it will wither in time. If it does, it will thrive through time.”