After spending nearly a month on the waves of Lake Ray Hubbard, Todd Phillips is coming home.
Phillips, 49, set out Oct. 10 with a steep goal: He would live on a barge on the lake until he raised $2.29 million for his nonprofit, The Last Well, which aims to provide clean water for all of Liberia by 2020.
Four weeks later, Phillips’ barge was towed Tuesday morning to the shore of The Harbor, a shopping center in Rockwall, where he was met with cheers from his wife and a team of supporters.
Each night since he set foot on the barge in October, Phillips had done a nightly Facebook Live broadcast. He'd update followers on how he was doing, and his supporters would pledge donations in the comments.
Monday night, as he was getting ready to sign off from the video, a commenter asked him to wait a moment.
Then another commenter jumped in:
“You have done enough. Go home and get a good night’s sleep in your own bed,” Brent Hilliard wrote. “Whatever is left at the close of tonight Hilliard Office Solutions will cover in equal payments over the next fifteen months. Send us the tickets to Liberia.”
And just like that, Phillips reached his goal. He celebrated with a back flip into the water — his first time off the barge in almost a month.
That moment — the total surprise of the huge donation, from someone he didn’t know — will be the memory that will stick with Phillips most from his time on the barge, he said.
Earlier in the night, Hilliard had pledged a donation of 15 wells, at $3,000 each. In total, his company, Hilliard Office Solutions, pledged $180,000 in donations. Before the broadcast, Phillips had been about $270,000 away from his goal.
Hilliard hadn't planned to make the donation that night. His son tagged him in the video Monday night, and later Hilliard texted him: "Hey, what do you think about doing the rest of it and calling it good?"
Hilliard was moved by The Last Well's cause, and he said he could tell from the video that Phillips was ready to go home.
"I just got sucked into the moment and agreed to take care of the balance of it," he said.
Sterling Hilliard, Brent's son and co-owner of Hilliard Office Solutions, said his dad "doesn't know how to go small."
As Phillips stepped off the barge Tuesday morning, he said his finish line was in sight — all Liberians having access to clean water.
"We're going to see the last well drilled in the last village," he said. "It's going to happen. This barge initiative, this Hope Floats barge initiative, got us ever closer to that."
Back on solid ground, Phillips said he wasn’t sure what to do with himself, but he planned to head to the polls and get some sleep. At 6 p.m. Tuesday, The Last Well planned to throw a party at Dodie’s, a restaurant at The Harbor, and everyone was invited, Phillips said.
Phillips’ wife, Julie Phillips, said she looked forward to the new normal of having her husband home again for family dinners and game nights with their children.
During the weeks on the 20- by 22-foot wooden barge, Todd Phillips endured record-setting rainfall that came with powerful storms. The barge was anchored on the lake, where drivers going east on Interstate 30 could see him just before the Village Drive/Horizon Road exit.
On the barge, Phillips had a tent equipped with a cot, supplies and a table for his computer; a generator to keep his devices charged and lights on; a portable toilet, and a stationary bike.
Friends and family would visit him from time to time, getting boat rides to the barge from folks at Chandler’s Landing Marina and taking him meals. To stay hydrated, he drank filtered lake water, using the same equipment his group uses in Liberia.
The Last Well, Phillips' nonprofit, was launched in 2008 by a group at Frontline Church in Washington, D.C., where Phillips was a pastor. The group decided to focus its philanthropy on Liberia when its members asked themselves: What's the most challenging place in the world, and what is that place's greatest need?
Since 2008, the group says, it has provided access to clean water for 1.7 million Liberians. Phillips said people wanting to support the cause can still make a donation at thelastwell.org.