Rodney smiles broadly when he thinks about how good his life is now, after years of wandering down the wrong path. “My father would be proud of me. When I was growing up, he always said, ‘Make sure you always have a job, and make sure you are a good worker. Your integrity and your word will get you places when you don’t have a dollar,’” he says.
The value of hard work was emphasized by both parents when Rodney and his two siblings were growing up in Springfield, Mass., in the 1960s. His father was a construction worker and his mother worked at a coat factory, pressing coats before they were shipped out for sale. “She knew I was capable of good grades,” he says. “She always looked closely at my report card.” Rodney excelled at building and fixing things, and shortly after his high school graduation, he was hired as a chemical operator at Monsanto. The job paid well and he was able to afford a nice apartment, a car, and a motorcycle. And like many young people, he enjoyed the nightclub scene and a drink or two on weekends. “What could that hurt?” he thought. “I work hard all week.” For the next 10 years, Rodney continued to party and to hold good jobs. In the early 1990s, he earned diplomas in automotive repair and aviation mechanics.
He worked in aviation for a year, and expected his career to really take off. But instead he was grounded by what he calls “a thief who comes into your house and steals everything – crack cocaine.” “That stuff holds you hostage,” he says. “It makes you cold, selfish, and unproductive. You lie to people you’ve never lied to before, and you idolize negative, unproductive goals that only the underworld finds fascinating.” For Rodney – who doesn’t like to recall his dark days – addiction and “unproductive goals” led to unemployment, legal trouble, homelessness, and multiple rehab programs. He also developed diabetes.
In 2006, Rodney was staying at a halfway house in Boston when “I suddenly realized that if I didn’t change, my luck would run out.” But instead of a dire end, Rodney got some life-changing advice from a fellow resident: Apply to the Moving Ahead Program at St. Francis House; that’s where you want to be. Rodney was accepted into Class 63, and from week one, his instructor, Artie Rounds, encouraged students to identify three jobs that interested them, set goals, and develop an action plan. Rodney’s top choice was radiology technician, but he doubted his ability to work consistently and patiently toward his goal, which would require earning an associate’s degree. Artie understood that fear, but he challenged Rodney to demand more of himself, just as Rodney’s father had done. “Go after success the way Big Papi goes after home runs,” Artie told him. “If you put half as much effort into succeeding as you did into getting high, you’d be successful.” Rodney took those comments to heart, and from then on he focused himself like a laser.
Rodney got a part-time job distributing papers for the Boston Metro, and shortly after his MAP graduation, he began taking prerequisite classes at Bunker Hill Community College so that he could apply for the competitive radiology program. The MAP staff stood behind Rodney every step of the way. When he needed help with algebra, MAP helped him find a tutor. When he wanted to volunteer in a radiology department, MAP connected him with the volunteer coordinator at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For 18 months, Rodney worked toward his goal, and his hard work paid off. In 2008, he was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society, and he was awarded the Jack Arvedon Award at Beth Israel Deaconess, recognizing his outstanding efforts as a volunteer. In 2009, Rodney was accepted into Bunker Hill’s radiology program, and in 2011 he graduated with honors. “Rodney learned to channel all of his energy into positive, productive things as opposed to negative pursuits that weren’t getting him anywhere,” says Artie. “He has really tapped into his potential and rejoined society.” Today, Rodney has a thick folder full of certificates and glowing recommendations, and he works at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital as a patient sitter. “That job will help me get my foot in the [radiology] door,” he explains.
From there, the sky’s the limit.