Scoutmaster Rhoden dedicated to community service
DESPITE EXPERIENCING one of the lowest moments of his life, owing to health issues that kept him in the hospital for 14 months, Dean Rhoden’s strong sense of duty to community through service remains unwavering.
The Jamaica-born scouts leader has dedicated decades of his life to serving both his country at its grass-roots level and his international comrades in Connecticut, United States, where he currently resides.
In 2018, Rhoden received a stage two prostate cancer diagnosis, with a recurrence in 2019. As a result, he underwent 47 radiation therapy treatments.
He also had a lower and upper bulged disc (a spinal injury) because of a car accident in 2012. In a recent interview with The Gleaner, Rhoden recounted how his life had changed course and grown more challenging as he was weakened to a state where he could no longer care for himself, but had to be assisted by three nurse’s aides.
In addition to being hospitalised during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rhoden was also surrounded by death as over 25 people, according to him, died in the nursing home in which he was recovering after contracting the respiratory virus. Included among those who died was his roommate at the time.
He explained how he was confined to a wheelchair for several months and needed a machine to take him to the restroom. Due to having his mobility severely compromised, Rhoden also had to relearn how to write.
“Several time them pronounce me dead,” he told The Gleaner in reference to the length of his recovery.
He recalled that one day, “The therapist said to me, whatever you used to do, continue doing it.”
Given that all his life all he knew was to help others, this is what encouraged him to get better instead of feeling sorry for himself.
SPENT YOUTHFUL DAYS
The 62-year-old is originally from the Barbican neighbourhood but later relocated to the Hermitage community in St Andrew in 1964, where he spent most of his youthful days.
Rhoden is no stranger to other communities like Bedward Gardens, Goldsmith Villa, and African Gardens, which make up the August Town region, and is well known and respected for his love for the people.
His passion for community development began when he was a young boy who, upon becoming aware of the various challenges that his neighbourhood faced, acted promptly to address them.
Due to the high levels of crime and violence in the neighbourhood, Rhoden created a scouts troop in 1983 with an initial cohort of 12 boys in order to keep the young men off the streets.
After observing the girls’ interest in scouts, Rhoden started a local Girl Guides group three years later.
Rhoden also had a key role in creating the Hermitage Education Centre’s five-year development plan, which was designed to help revitalise the neighbourhood with the primary goal of empowering youth and giving them practical life skills that they could use to support themselves.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
For Rhoden, 1994 marked the official start of his career in community service as he started making a conscious effort to be ‘one with the streets’, interacting with the common man and mentoring marginalised youth through intervention strategies – a formula for success that he still uses today.
He later operated a homework programme in August Town and would serve as president for the Hermitage Citizen’s Association and Neighbourhood Watch.
Additionally, Rhoden started the Hermitage community economic tourism project to advertise and stimulate the business sector within the community while improving lives.
As a member of the Jamaica Diaspora Crime Intervention and Prevention Task Force – a group of Jamaicans living in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada – he has placed keen focus on intervention and prevention and uses the activities of sports, music, and education to reach the children.
In his more recent initiatives, Rhoden established the ‘Let’s Talk Under the Reggae Tree Foundation’, formerly known as ‘Let’s talk on the corner under the Reggae tree with uncle Dean’ in 2021, engaging over 100 children in Connecticut.
Through the Foundation’s Jamaica branch, he continues to have an impact on youth in his hometown as he targets children aged six-25 years who have lost their parents to gun violence.
Meetings are held every Tuesday via the online platform ZOOM, where he mentors and inspires youth to not just seek more for themselves, but to dream big with the purpose of fulfilling those aspirations.
“It builds self-reliance, self-confidence,” he said of the programme, noting that once the children communicate what their ideal career path in life is, he begins to address them as such.
“We have five wanna-be pilots, so I start to address them [as such] because growing up, people would say ‘You wukliss boy’ and that person becomes so wukliss (worthless). So we always say [to them] ‘You gonna be a doctor’ if they want to be a doctor,” he said as a way of speaking their success into being.
He also invites motivational speakers in connection to the field of work that the kids want to be into help them as well.
Rhoden is aiming for the programme to be run by children and for uniform groups in Jamaica to collaborate with him in expanding its reach.
“If we could collaborate with a few young men who might get involved because [these boys] they’re our nephew, they are our brothers-in-law, so my thing is intervention, how can we break this cycle,” he said.
Rhoden stated that he hopes to start an apprenticeship programme to ensure that the existing businesses in Hermitage are properly structured.
“They have these great programmes [where they] train these children, but there is nowhere for them to get work, nothing to do, so they just come back and not doing nothing,” he said.
Rhoden has already gathered the various businesspeople to include masons, hairdressers, mechanics, welders, and craftsmen into a WhatsApp group to be used as the means of communication for the pilot project.
He said that it would be worthwhile if at least 10 entrepreneurs each took a young individual off the corner. He explained to The Gleaner that he is kept motivated by the lives he has been able to help change for the better, one person at a time.
“There was an incident in Hermitage in the early ‘80s, you know, one of those tough guys ... . Police wanted him, and something happened, and he came there ... and that guy looked at me and said, ‘Mr Rhoden, if I had somebody like you, I would not be who I am’, and I think that is one of my greatest motivations to help the man on the corner,” he said.
He added that they desperately needed someone willing to listen to them and to guide them along the right path.
. Rhoden migrated to the US in 2008 and has served as an Eagle Scoutmaster and Counsellors in Training (CIT) leader for many years. During his first few years in the US, he taught youngsters at the camp the art of woodwork as a provisional scout leader.
. Since 1983, Rhoden has served as Assistant District Scout Commissioner for St Andrew and was recognised in 2008, where he was named the Governor General’s Achievement Award recipient for Surrey, in acknowledgement of his more than decade-long service.
. He received the One Hundred Men of Color award in 2015. The award is presented in appreciation of the positive impact and contributions that men of colour have made to society in the areas of commerce, education, entrepreneurship, entertainment, governance, and public service in the communities of Connecticut and western Massachusetts in the United States.
. As a result of this honour, Domenic Sarno, the mayor of the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, in 2015 proclaimed October 23 as ‘Dean Rhoden Day’.
. Rhoden was awarded a Medal of Merit for 10 years of outstanding service to the scout movement in 1995. In 2003, he received the Bar to the Award for Merit and was recognised by the Hermitage Citizen’s Association for outstanding community service.
. He also served as a member of the Small Business Association of Jamaica and assisted in the training of students at Jamaica College for their Caribbean Examinations Council woodwork classes.