Rick Clark's Poignant Reflection on Moving Beyond Homelessness

Video crew films Mike Rowe with Rick Clark
Mike Rowe filming "Returning the Favor" with Rick Clark

August 06, 2019

Rick Clark is Spokane’s favorite heartwarming, obstacle-overcoming story. This year, the rest of the nation has had the chance to shed a few happy tears with him, too.

At 40-something years old Rick was a high school dropout who’d been homeless before deciding that getting his GED and attending community college was his last chance to do something with himself. While taking classes, he started giving out backpacks to people on the street, and those experiences inspired him to do more. He applied to Gonzaga, which sent him an acceptance letter saying “We’ve been waiting for you,” and chose a communications degree to help encourage civil conversations on tough topics like homelessness. Before graduating, his informal backpack delivery service had turned into a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Giving Back Packs, with a board of directors and an office and a host of faithful financial supporters.

The week before his last final exams, he had the surprise party of his life, as TV host Mike Rowe showed up at Gonzaga to film a whole episode of “Returning the Favor” about Rick and his organization.

When the popular Facebook Watch show aired several weeks later, Rick gathered with Gonzaga staff members for a personal conversation about everything from why he chose communication studies to what makes for a great night of sleep. As it turns out, the answer to both of those is simply helping other people.

“I had a lot of time in my life when – I wasn’t a bad person – I just didn’t do anything. I just floated through this life. For 40 years, I floated around doing odd jobs and just not tapping into my potential or knowing that I had a bigger purpose,” Rick shared.

“I love going out on the street and telling people: ‘I was right where you are. Four years ago, I was sleeping outside just like you are, but this spring, I just walked across the stage at Gonzaga University.’ They look at me with this moment of clarity, like, ‘Wait a minute, so this might not be who I am as a person? I can actually get out of this?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, and let me help you.’ ”

Hear more highlights from an interview with Rick in the video below.


Rick Clark coverage, Alumnibelive podcast episode