Leneka Rhoden, 19 has given a decade of her life to volunteerism

[This article was originally printed in the Jamaica Observer on May 15, 2017]

AT 19, Leneka Rhoden qualifies for a 10-year long service award for community outreach, having dedicated her life so far to helping children prepare for their future through education. This I Believe ambassador of the Governor General’s Programme for Excellence since 2014 and a recipient of the Governor General’s Achievement Award, 2015, has been serious about guiding the lives of young Jamaicans since nine, when most children her age would be ‘playing school’.

But because she was naturally gifted in mathematics — a subject most children fear and find challenging — when her mother Theresa Walters bought her a blackboard, Rhoden took it onto the verandah and asked her mother to invite her cousins and GSAT students from her community in Bull Bay to class where she taught them fractions. She even marked their books.

Fast-forward five years, when Rhoden was a student at The Queen’s School. Her mother was promoted to principal of Pentonville Basic School, Bull Bay, and decided to host summer school.

“I volunteered to lead the GSAT sessions and took my past papers for the children in the community to practise how to prepare the answers. Another of my better subjects was social studies, so I offered help in that subject as well,” she said.

The help serum stayed in her veins when, as a sixth former at Queen’s, she saw the need to mentor the first formers in the rules of the school and to get them acquainted with their surroundings.

“I walked around the first form block, encouraged the new students, showed them the importance of time management at high school, and helped each to create a vision board. I knew that such interaction and guidance would make their future a little brighter, as they would become more confident. Also, once you know where you are going you have a drive and passion to stay focused to achieve your goals,” she said.

Rhoden said although she is now a first year student at the University of the West Indies (The UWI), those students at Queen’s who she mentored still send e-mails to thank her for having inspired them by that initiative and continue to seek her advice.

Yet not feeling weary in doing good, Rhoden cofounded in 2015 La Clique Des Chics — a foundation geared towards empowering through education with a focus on helping students at the CAPE and CSEC levels — with her former Queen’s French teacher, Madame Ferriera.

“We use social media to promote the study sessions with students across the island, and a month or so before exams we invite them to a revision workshop, free of cost. On April 15 this year, the largest crowd of 457 students turned up at Kingston College. We also offered a session in the best approach to applying for scholarships, to plant in their minds the need to begin early to source funding for their tertiary education,” she noted.

Rhoden paid tribute to the sponsors of the workshop, including the I Believe initiative, Jamaica Broilers Group and RuJohn Foundation, from which she has received a scholarship to cover her current studies at The UWI.

She was beside herself when she received the RuJohn Community Service Award and Scholarship last year. There standing before her, live, was the handsome Jussie Smollett, from the famous Empire TV programme, and a sponsor of the RuJohn Foundation.He presented her with the award because of her work in the school community and for nation building. Rhoden has been a volunteer with the foundation since 2014.

“Wow! I was in shock. I thought… is this really him? I knew he was in Jamaica, but I didn’t know I would have been so close to him. Of course my friends told me how jealous they were. I didn’t even think of getting his autograph, but I took a picture with him,” she said with delight.

Rhoden has had her fair share of the limelight from school days, when she was selected the runner-up in the Miss Queen’s 2015 competition and won three sectional prizes – Best Talent, Most Congenial, and the People’s Choice.

Currently she has been short-listed to represent Jamaica in the Miss Humanity International competition on August 25 in Barbados, for her philanthropy.

“I would like to travel the world and continue to inspire young people to explore different avenues to make their lives better. In addition, I would wish to find an engaging way to stop child labour and empower women,” she said.

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