Faces of Pittsburgh

A New Perspective

By NATALIE LOUISE DEBARTO  
nldst9@mail.rmu.edu

The pale office sits in a little “cubby hole” of what is the largest building on Robert Morris University’s campus. Past the mail boxes, down the steps, and inside the Center for Student Success is the office of Randon Willard, the crisis counselor at RMU.

Though it was a long journey to this office, once there, Randon found his place in the world.

Randon graduated college with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, his dream being that he could some day open a bed and breakfast that specialized in Marriage Counseling. He wanted it to be a “get away” for stressed couples, where they could enjoy the relaxing atmosphere while working out the problems that hold them down.

His dream shifted when he realized he had no means of creating that magical place . Not long after graduation, a position opened at the YMCA where he worked as a summer camp counselor during college. Knowing he had always wanted to work with children, he took the job.

As much as he enjoyed working with kids, what he really liked about the job was talking to the college students who were counselors. This was the first time Randon had ever thought about working with college students.

“I was like, man, that’s where I want to be. I want to be with people who are in this phase of life, willing and ready to grow,” Randon said of college students.

The next two years of his life were spent trying to figure his life out,,and started with a three-month mission trip to Brazil.

“I went to Brazil to learn about poverty, and how some organizations are eleviating poverty,” he said.

During his stay in Brazil, Randon learned what poverty means, and how he can help eleviate it.

“I came back thinking that I wanted to work with college students, but I didn’t know exactly what yet. I thought I wanted to work with them through a young adult ministry,” Randon said.

As a result of this realization, he began working with college students through a church in North Carolina while working at a middle school to pay the bills.

“I hated working at the church—hated seminary. I liked working at the middle school, but mainly because I just loved working with the staff I was with,” he shared.

After a year of working with both the church and the middle school, he left to work at Robert Morris University.

Randon’s work  with Robert Morris began with the creation of  what is now the Office of Student Civic Engagement. He coordinated all of the community service, while also serving as a campus minister.

“Through that position I really got to know a lot of students well and staff,” he noted.

After three years, Randon finished his contract and was deciding what his next life move would be. He loved working with college students, and it was something he had been hoping to do for quite sometime. Through some friendships on campus, a couple of jobs opened up and he was asked to consider them.

Randon decided to take on the job as “Crisis Counselor” at Robert Morris University.

“I wanted to be in a position where I could interact with students a lot and really be able to speak into their lives, and the crisis counselor position was a perfect fit for that,” he shared.

Many crisis counselors eventually leave the job because they are worn down from all of the emotions that flood their office. Conversely, Randon is completely at peace with this part of the job.

“Sadness is just as much a part of life as happiness is,” he said.  “I think you really get to know people when you go through sad things with them.”

“I make sure my own life is healthy, so I can come in here and be able to do that,” Randon explained.

Randon says he fills his life with happy people. At home he has a comforting wife that is always there for him. In the offices that surround him, are co-workers that keep the office light and cheery. He also has a strong support system within his church.

“I just make sure that personally I am living a healthy lifestyle so that I can come in here and handle it. It is tough, but there’s something great about people letting you into their lives,” he said.

Randon takes the time to meet with everyone, and he’s extremely involved around campus.

“Randon always has a positive attitude and he’s a great listener,” said student and co-worker, Ashley Zacher, “You can tell when he’s really listening, because he makes this face like he’s thinking hard about what you’re saying.”

It took Randon years after college to find where he felt he was meant to be in life, but once he got there he felt home right away.

“I’ve always looked at people as the most important thing, and to take away that veil of the fakeness we live in. In here real things happen, and it’s a rare day when someone’s not crying,” Randon said.

“Randon helps everyone with their problems, big or small,” said Zacher.

Randon thinks differently, though. “I don’t like the word help, because I don’t even know if what I do is about helping, but more about giving people a different perspective on life.”