June 22, 2024

On a Mission

UMW junior Ben Henderson practically grew up in his parents’ faith-based community center. There were no weekend basketball games for this shooting guard; Sundays were all about church. Religion makes his world go ‘round. Yet when it came time for college, he was reluctant to study the subject.

“I felt like it would be contradicting my personal beliefs,” Henderson said.

UMW junior Ben Henderson works with young children at the Family Life Center in Fredericksburg. Henderson, who is double majoring in religion and sociology, is set on going to seminary school and focused on building better communities. Photo by Norm Shafer.
UMW junior Ben Henderson works with young children at the Family Life Center in Fredericksburg. Henderson, who is double majoring in religion and sociology, is set on going to seminary school and focused on building better communities. Photo by Norm Shafer.

He was wrong.

In opening his eyes to other religions, he said, “It made me a better Christian.”

That’s key for Henderson, who spent long summer days playing games with the children who were dropped off for daycare at the center his parents, both pastors, built to support the Fredericksburg community. Somewhere along the way, playtime turned serious, and he found himself called to the ministry. It’s a quest he continues at UMW, where his majors, sociology – and now also religion – will guide him toward his dream to help at-risk youth.

The youngest of four – brother Joseph Jr. ’14 and sister Ashley Nicole ’11 are also UMW alums – Henderson was reared on hard work. As his mother and father labored tirelessly around him, “It became second nature to try to do as much as I can,” said Henderson, who stocked food, sorted clothes and swept floors early on. The first to arrive in the morning. The last to leave every night.

When middle-school basketball, with no Sunday obligations, gave him a chance to do his own thing, his parents showed up to support him.

“Even when I was on the bench most of the game,” Henderson said, “they were the family that was always there.”

Choosing Mary Washington kept Henderson close to them – and to the center – but he was adamant about living on campus. “When I’m on campus, I’m at school,” he said. “I get caught up in learning.”

That includes that first shaky foray into religion with Associate Professor of Classics, Philosophy and Religion Mary Beth Mathews. “The Abrahamic Religions” dissected Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and gave Henderson a new view.

“I liked that class,” he said. “[Studying religion] has given me a chance to set aside my Christian lens and find a different perspective.”

With a schedule like his, perspective is important. He’s in the UMW Chorus, took part in the University’s recent branded marketing campaign, helps out in the Office of Admissions and squeezes in side jobs and classes where he can. That’s on top of a full-time curriculum, a part-time job with Academic Services, and of course, his work at the center, where he now administers the youth program he used to be part of.

Program Support Technician Charlotte Corbett-Parker, who supervises Henderson in Academic Services, credits his stellar performance, in part, to the skills he picked up at the center.

“These are life experiences that other students just don’t have,” she said. “You don’t see a lot of people wanting to serve the community the way [his family does]. Ben is tied into helping others. It’s something that comes natural to him.”

He also plays drums at church, where he’s passing his passion for the art down to the kids who’ve come after him. He plans to weave his musical talent into his dreams – attending seminary school, developing nonprofit programs, and teaching, all to bolster families and community.

“When I think of things I want to do, I never can say just one thing and leave it at that,” he said. “I think that’s because of how I grew up.”