By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Rebecca Hinman is a 20-year old junior at Rockhurst University, but that is not what defines her. She is a leader on campus, a tireless volunteer at a number of local charitable organizations, part-time staff member of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan Office of Human Rights, all while working on a combined major in non-profit management, leadership studies and theology. “I’m busy and loving it,” she said.
Two months ago, Bill Kriege, assistant director of Rockhurst Campus Ministry and Jude Huntz, director of the diocesan Human Rights Office, jointly nominated Rebecca for the 2011 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, an initiative of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. She learned Sept. 2 that she was a finalist for the award.
The Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership award recognizes new and future leadership against poverty and injustice and promotes and honors outstanding young leaders and their communities.
After graduating from high school in Olathe, Kan., Rebecca arrived at Rockhurst in the fall of 2009, and immediately became involved in Campus Ministry. She attends retreats, participates in the campus’ 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration, and is a leader of the university’s Christian Life Community. Christian Life Communities are small groups of students that meet weekly for community, prayer and mission.
She is a member of the executive board of Voices for Justice, a student-led social justice group. Voices for Justice members explore how Christianity implies justice and raise awareness of social justice issues at Rockhurst and in the broader community.
Rebecca is also a resident assistant in her dormitory.
“I talk about being Catholic and social justice together,” she said. “I talk about them a lot on campus — I just can’t say I’m Catholic without talking about social justice. My religion, my faith, is what drives me to work on social justice issues.”
As an executive board member of Voices for Justice, she is responsible for initiating and engaging in weekly social justice activities. Rebecca has ongoing service commitments at St. Francis Xavier parish and St. James Place food pantries, and has served at Holy Family Catholic Worker House, Harvesters, Leftovers with Love, and other organizations, including Habitat for Humanity and New Roots for Refugees.
The Cardinal Bernardin Award is also designed to strengthen the Catholic community’s participation in CCHD’s anti-poverty mission.
Some months ago, Kriege said, Rebecca inquired about possibly adding a local service mission “trip” and inviting students to serve the poorest of the poor in Kansas City. This was a first for Rockhurst — although university students log thousands of local, domestic and international service hours, they had never been invited to spend an entire week serving the poor in this city. Kriege said that Rebecca helped “flesh out” details of the local service trip and will lead and be part of the Kansas City service trip in October.
New and settled immigrants often find themselves impoverished and unable to pull themselves out of poverty. “I have always been interested in politics,” she said, “and that sparked an interest in immigration. My parents own Le Peep restaurants, and my father is a former president of the restaurant board. I learned something about immigrant workers from being around the restaurant, and I went with him to Topeka to lobby for immigration rights. When I started at Rockhurst, Bill (Kriege) pushed me to find out more about immigration.”
With the diocesan office of Human Rights, she lobbied Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, asking for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.
In February, the Human Rights office sponsored a two-day conference on immigration, hosted by Rockhurst. Rebecca organized the student volunteers and oversaw their work during the conference.
Several months ago the Human Rights office needed a part-time administrative assistant, and “enthusiastically chose Rebecca for the position,” said Human Rights director Jude Huntz.
One of Rebecca’s first tasks was to organize an advocacy breakfast with Kansas City Mayor Sly James and the City Council, Catholic Charities, the Human Rights office and members of the diocesan leadership team in order to collaborate on social service programs and issues.
Over the summer, she led a mission trip to the West Virginian Appalachian regions, and spent seven weeks there, living in an elementary school building, and working with other volunteers. “I was in charge of the community aspect,” she said. “I initiated team-building activities that combined spirituality, service and reflection. We basically built and repaired houses. It was a humbling experience: electricity that went on and off, working to try and help some desperately poor people, with very little contact with the outside world. It was also a great time — I loved to hike in the mountains!”
The Missouri Catholic Conference holds its Annual Assembly in Jefferson City the first weekend in October, and Rebecca plans to lead an advocacy group to the assembly. She oversees a college intern working on Justice for Immigrants education in the Human
Rights office, and is coordinating a campaign of education and action in parish environmental stewardship. Besides immigration, she works on issues including Human Trafficking, payday lending reform, and nuclear weapons.
And she still finds time to spend with her parents, her sister Amanda and brother Nicholas, movies, concerts, and her boyfriend.
Rebecca is still considering her future plans. “I feel called to serve, in what capacity I don’t know yet. I’m considering a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, or going to graduate school for a Masters in Social Service, or maybe both. And, you know, I would be content working in a food pantry for the rest of my life.”
How does her daily life relate to the mission of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development? She thought for a moment and said, “I think that what I do, who I am friends with is part of the effort to provide social justice in Kansas City. I want to live out my faith by helping to provide options for the poor.”
Rebecca will learn whether the U.S. Bishops Campaign for Human Development has named her the 2011 Cardinal Bernardin Award winner in about a month.