​​Lives of service and leadership were celebrated at Homecoming as several alumni and friends were recognized with awards. Whether they are leading a crew pulling weeds, teaching barista skills to homeless youth, or helping a church improve Bible class curriculum and community outreach, these individuals are loving others and exemplifying Christ in their life and work. They embody the mission of York College to transform lives through Christ-centered education and to equip students for lifelong service to God, family and society.

Alumni of the Year:
​Scott '79 and Lisa (Hinrichs '81) Eckman

​It’s August on the York College campus. Early morning and it’s already hot and humid. A group of people gathers in the cafeteria for breakfast--a bit older than the average student--with clothes covered in paint and skin covered in sunscreen. Wide brimmed hats and sunglasses perch atop most heads. They load up on calories, knowing they will burn them all off with the days’ work ahead. Scott Eckman whistles a cheerful tune and excitedly welcomes the individuals. He’s far more awake and full of energy than anyone else in the room. He prays a blessing over the group, asking for a time of great fellowship, hard work, and no injuries.

Then it’s Lisa’s turn. She hands out assignments--youngest backs on mulch, those with an eye for detail on painting, those that can tell a bedding plant from a pest on the weeding crew. As everyone heads to their jobs, Scott and Lisa make sure there are work gloves, water bottles, and tools enough to go around. For the next two and a half days, they will see to it that every part of campus--and every laborer--gets a little touch of TLC.

Scott and Lisa are the founders of York College Alumni and Friends Workdays. Now in its tenth year, this annual event brings dozens to campus each summer to paint, mulch, weed, and more. The crew tackles small and large projects to improve the appearance of campus before students return for the fall semester. More than 50 people participated in Workdays in 2018.
“We love this place,” said Scott, accepting the Alumni of the Year award at Homecoming. “Lisa and I owe a lot to York College. It provided a solid godly foundation for the rest of our lives. Our families, our careers, our marriage, life-long friendships...a lot of the best things in our lives started here.”

Young Alumnus of the Year: Mark Smesrud ’10

Mike is 6’8”, covered in tattoos, and was formerly known on the streets of Denver as “Tower.”  Mike was the first employee at Purple Door Coffee, the ministry Mark Smesrud ’10 helped to start in one of Denver's oldest and most diverse neighborhoods. “Mike looks a little bit terrifying but once you get to know him you find that he is the most loyal friend you'll ever have. He is compassionate and kind and an incredibly hard worker,” said Mark. 

More than serving tasty drinks, Purple Door has a unique mission: employ teens and young adults transitioning out of homelessness and heal brokenness through the dignity that work provides. Mark focuses on teaching employees job skills that are applicable in any occupation--customer service, punctuality, cleanliness, professionalism--so that after one year of working at the coffee shop, employees can graduate to a job in the “real world.”

Mike did great at Purple Door and moved on to other employment. He was no longer living on the streets and he was doing pretty well. However, three years later, he was back at the coffee shop. He had gotten into some trouble with the law and wanted to see Mark before his sentencing. 

Mark asked him, “Mike, why are you here?” 

“Where else would I go?” Mike said. 

This is a common experience at Purple Door. For Mark’s employees, the little coffee shop in Denver becomes home--often the first home they've ever known. It's the place where they know they can go if they’re in trouble or just want to catch up. It’s the place where they’ll find a warm welcome, a great cup of coffee, and someone who cares.

“Each of us has a restless longing for home,” said Mark, who has served as the executive director of Purple Door since its inception in 2013. “Christ is the one who satisfies it. Christ through his people is what allows us to have home here and now until we reach our eternal home. Through Purple Door we are inviting people to find home.”

In the five years since it opened, Purple Door has employed 28 young adults and helped them transition out of homelessness; 23 have never returned to the streets.

“Purple is the color of royalty,” Mark explains. “We believe that every human life, no matter what that life has looked like, has unsurpassable worth and value. That is made perfectly clear in the life and person of Jesus. So, anyone who comes through our door, no matter who that person is, deserves to be treated like royalty.”

Servant Leader Award: Joe and Linda Thomas

A hundred or so church members from across the North Central states has gathered on the York College campus. They are there to learn what’s working for other small congregations, to share ideas, and to encourage one another. Through the day-long workshop they will share curriculum, outreach success stories, and strategies for church growth. Joe and Linda Thomas have organized the workshop at York College, as well as five others across the state in the past few years. Their hope is that attendees will go home equipped to serve their local communities. 

Since they started working with Sojourners in Nebraska in 2009, the Thomases have developed a zeal for encouraging the saints in small congregations throughout the state. In the last few years, they have visited most of the 42 churches of Christ in Nebraska, eager to learn what’s working, what’s not, and how they and other Sojourners can help. 

The workshops they’ve hosted “are about becoming what God wants us to be as the church,” said Linda, who also serves on the York College Board of Trustees. 

“This crowd is bigger than the congregations of most of the churches in the North Central states,” Joe told attendees at the Doors of Opportunity held at YC in May. While he says he would love to recruit more retired people to join Sojourners, he tells the assembly, “You already have a job to do right here,” in Nebraska.

Through their work with Sojourners, the Thomases have visited christian camps, schools, children’s homes, and churches to provide free labor, usually from April through November. Over the years, Sojourners have had a huge impact on York College, as they helped to renovate the Prayer Chapel, refurbish classrooms and other campus spaces, and frame the Touchton Clubhouse, among other projects. 

“About a third of the requests Sojourners receive is evangelistic in nature,” said Joe, explaining that they help small churches host VBS programs or Gospel meetings, conduct a door knocking campaign, or fill a pulpit to provide respite for local ministers. Joe rarely gets turned down when he calls a church and offers to preach. “It’s hard to imagine when you’re in a large congregation what it’s really like out there,” he said, noting that he and Linda cherish the opportunity to bless those that give so much of themselves to bless others through their local church.