Way back in 2006, we ran a cover story called "Who Cares?" that spotlighted eight young Arkansans under 35 who were doing great things for their community. The idea was to offer a kind of antidote to those who see the younger generation as hopeless, apathetic and disconnected.
Fortune's wheel, as Will Shakespeare was wont to say, is always turning. It's a whole different world now: gas prices through the roof, a looming deficit crisis and the ongoing Great Recession, with the economy way, way down and unemployment way, way up.
Even in the face of that seeming despair, a good number of young folks in Arkansas are just as motivated and positive as ever about the future. To prove it, we've rounded up eight more sub-35-year-olds who are doing extraordinary things for their state and the nation.
What's that feeling in our chests when we recall our conversations with them? Ah, yes: hope. And they've brought enough to share.
WHAT HE CARES ABOUT: The homeless
If Jesus comes back, he's probably not coming to the big church out on the freeway. More than likely, he'll be riding shotgun with Aaron Reddin. The owner of The Van — a non-profit that delivers food, clothes and other necessities directly to the homeless — Aaron is an ol' school Christian of the sort that would likely make that rabble-rousing carpenter from Bethlehem proud.
As a teen-ager, Reddin wound up addicted to meth and living in his car. After getting clean and landing a job at the Union Rescue Mission, Reddin found faith and discovered his calling: bringing comfort to the downtrodden. A few years back, he started a drive among friends to collect used coats for the needy. From there, he started packing his car with donated items — everything from socks to canned food to underwear — and cruising the streets at night, giving freely to anyone who looked like they needed help. All while working his full-time day job at the St. Francis House shelter.
"If someone's got a need, we're going to meet it," he said. "Our slogan is: No rules, no apologies, just help."
About a year ago, Reddin officially started his non-profit, The One Inc., which operates The Van. The Van got its namesake when Reddin posted on Facebook that he needed a panel truck to haul things. That same day, a car dealer friend from Benton saw his request, and asked a car-dealing colleague if he had a van. He did. "The dude said: 'Don't move, I'm coming to get it,' " Reddin recalled. "He went over there, bought it from him, dropped it off at my friend's business and walked back to his car lot ... He refuses to let me tell anybody who he is."
These days, the simple white van and Reddin's mission have a loyal following of more than 1,000 fans on Facebook (www.facebook.com/itsthevan). The van itself is a bit sun-faded, but every surface is covered with the scrawled love of people Reddin has met along the way.
While The Van is technically a faith-based operation, Reddin doesn't have much nice to say about Christianity in America. He says it's a travesty that anyone should go hungry while churches costing millions of dollars are being built. "I'm pretty sure that my Jesus, today, would be in prison for arson," Reddin said, "because he'd probably burn down the big churches."
Reddin hopes to have another van operating in Memphis by this winter, and is currently building a shower and laundry trailer that he can tow to homeless camps (he needs stackable washer/dryers, pumps and a tankless water heater if anyone wants to help). He is, he says, very proud to be part of a generation that does things instead of talking about them. "We're sick of the bullshit," he said. "We're sick of the bureaucracy. We're sick of — especially young people in the church — 'Well, this committee has to meet. We've got $20,000 in the bank to help, but we've got to wait until next month's meeting to discuss it.' Well, that doesn't do a whole lot of good for all the frickin' people in your back yard who need help right now."
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