Service Above Self


Young men’s lives are shaped by many things, and one particularly positive influence is serving others.

At least once a year for many years now, a group of Hampden-Sydney students have traveled to rural—often neglected—parts of Central America and the Caribbean to lend a helping hand to people in need. Our students travel with a global, non-profit organization called Rivers of the World (ROW) and each trip has been led by Dean of Students David A. Klein ’78. This fall, ROW gathered many students from previous trips back on campus to recognize Klein for ten years of commitment to transforming young men through international service trips.

“So often we wait until someone is gone before we celebrate them,” says Ben Mathes (below, left with Klein), the founder of Rivers of the World. “I’d rather not do that. I wanted to thank David now because he has done such an incredible job leading young men in some difficult places to get stuff done.”

Ben Mathes and David KleinDavid Klein is not one for the spotlight. “It is wonderful to be recognized, but it is not something I am accustomed to. To be publically recognized and appreciated by people who have been a part of this was really special. To have legions of students say ‘that was cool’ for doing what you just think ought to be done is really gratifying. It’s just something we ought to be doing.”

Klein has led trips to Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Belize, and the Dominican Republic. He and teams of students and alumni have built medical facilities and churches, repaired homes, and distributed countless boxes of supplies and clothes donated by the Hampden-Sydney community.

Dr. James C. Miller ’05 has been on 14 of these ROW service trips, beginning in 2005 as a student and continuing since as an alumnus. He has become a member of the ROW Board of Trustees and says, “Every trip is different from the others, but each is amazing in its own right. You always learn something new and it won’t be what you expect it to be. These trips are chances for students to get off The Hill and to interact with people of a different culture and a different socio-economic status. It’s such a powerful experience that ends up opening your eyes. You come back to school and you realize that your problems are first-world problems. It’s just an amazing life-changing experience.”

The experiences are equally moving for Klein and he can easily recount laying personal family treasures in the foundation of a tiny church high on a Honduran mountain and building crucial medical clinics like the maternity ward in remote Belize that they worked on during three trips.

“Before that maternity ward, pregnant women would walk out of the jungle to the hospital to have their babies, and their children would follow along with them. There was nowhere for them to go until they were actually wheeled into the delivery room, so they were sleeping on the ground outside. Now they have a two-story building that has clean rooms and offers the kind of prenatal and neonatal care you would hope everyone would have access to.”

While the work done in these communities is important, Klein continues to take Hampden-Sydney students on these trips because of what it does for them.

He says, “I care deeply about being able to help in the places where we go, but really watching what happens to our guys, the way they take to this experience and the lessons they take away from them, that’s my dog in the race. It happens every single time. It’s transformational for them. Watching our terribly self-conscious guys pick up children and forgetting that they are supposed to be terribly self-conscious means the world to me. As a preacher’s kid, I grew up in an environment that honored serving and helping others. I’m not sure I know another way of living.”

Miller agrees: “These guys get to go into communities and see how grateful the people are for what they have and the supplies we give them—just things like toothpaste and toothbrushes. Then to see how happy and full of life these people are is an amazing experience. That really marks some of the guys.”

After a long day working shoulder to shoulder, students gather in the evenings with Klein and whatever other staff or alumni might be along to talk about what they saw that day.

Miller says,“We end up getting into fairly deep conversations based on what people have seen and felt and how they are going to incorporate that into their lives. It’s a really powerful movement. You end up bonding with the people you are with, whether its students, staff, or alumni. And it’s a bond that never will be broken.”

The bond created between Hampden-Sydney and Rivers of the World is strong as well. Many student participants have returned to go on ROW trips as alumni. Wesley S. Lawson ’04 and Captain Nicholas D. Beazley ’03 have both worked for the organization and W. Andrew “Drew” McIlreavy ’03 continues to work with the organization as the coordinator for service trips to Vietnam.

Hampden-Sydney students continue to go with ROW. This spring another group of Hampden-Sydney students and alumni—along with David Klein—will return to the Dominican Republic where they built a church for Haitian refugees. They will begin laying the foundation for a two-story school ROW is building right next to that church. It is likely they will see many old friends from the previous trip, as they often do.

“To see how he interacts, how he leads those guys is awesome,” says Miller, who will again be on the trip. “If I could be half as a good a leader as he is I would count myself lucky. His quiet, calm demeanor just gets you through some situations where you might feel uncomfortable. He has a way of bringing calm and order to chaos that you just can’t describe. You have to see it.”

Of course, you can see it for yourself. Alumni and friends of the College are welcome to share this life-changing experience with Klein and the students. If you would like to participate, please contact the Office of Student Affairs (434) 223-6128.