Elizabethtown College Online Magazine

Lives of Service: Rick Brown ’07

Rick Brown volunteers his time helping with childhood literacy.

At just 17 years old, retired Lt. Col. J. Rick Brown  ’07 joined the U.S. Navy and witnessed crushing poverty, depression, and lack of education and healthcare throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East. His experience abroad solidified his choice to dedicate his life in service to others.

“Those of us who have been blessed with the opportunity to help people should do so,” Brown said. After 26 years with the Pennsylvania State Police, Brown decided to further his education; he pursued a criminal justice degree at the College’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies because its mission aligned with his personal commitment to integrity and service. In 2010, Brown retired early to open Transparency Matters, a consultation firm he says serves as a vehicle to not only help interactions between citizens and law enforcement but also to fund community programs.

“I’m blessed with some skills to make a [good] living and I can divert some of that income to help kids. I’m not a millionaire, but a little bit goes a long way,” he said.

Brown’s brother, Rev. James Lyles, serves as CEO and president of Youth = 10xBetter, an organization which provides activities, education and skill-building for at-risk youth in the Harrisburg, Pa. area; it has a chess club, a sewing class for girls, a cooking class, an etiquette class for girls, a movie-making class and a fishing program. Brown and Lyles discovered that, despite the successes of many Harrisburg High School graduates, others were going into the world at a third-grade reading level.

“There were enough failures to cause a serious concern. If you can’t comprehend what you read, where are you going?” Brown asked.

Youth = 10xBetter created the Reading Better for the Cheddar Program, which offers a monetary gift to students who submit extra work. Brown’s brother-in-law coined the named—cheese is slang for money—and says the title really resonates with the kids. The program is simple: third graders read a book, write a report, have their parents sign it and then turn it in to their teacher. At the end of the month, students receive $2 per book report at a pizza party. Brown says Reading Better for the Cheddar instills in kids a work ethic, that there is a payoff for working hard. And it’s working. The two participating elementary schools reported to Brown that, since the program’s inception, children are reading better, and their test scores have improved.

“There’s no check you can write me that’s worth the time I spend playing with those third graders,” said Brown.

But it’s more than books. Brown also contributes funds to Healthy Kids Day, an event dedicated to giving bicycles to inner-city kids as a way to encourage them to go outside and get physically active. Through the years, as Brown volunteered and donated funds—cheddar—he realized that, for him, service at the grassroots level and working with people is rewarding.