‘Agent of change’ who brings hope to others honored with national fellowship

“At times it seemed like I was just all alone in a dark place,” says MCC student Crystal Rhodes of her growing-up  years. Rhodes now volunteers with children and is pursuing a career in social work.

It’s an honor that Crystal Rhodes didn’t see coming.

The Metropolitan Community College-Longview student has been awarded a Newman Civic Fellowship.

Rhodes says she didn’t know the fellowship even existed or that she was being considered.

The Newman Civic Fellowship supports students’ personal, professional and civic development. That includes resources to help fuel their passion and develop strategies for social change. The yearlong fellowship provides virtual learning opportunities and networking as part of a national network with other engaged student leaders.

The program aims to support these students as they build partnerships between campuses and communities.

While there is no money associated with the award, it makes students eligible for scholarship and other fellowship opportunities through partner organizations.

Each chancellor or president of a Campus Compact member institution can nominate one student for the fellowship. MCC Chancellor Kimberly Beatty nominated Rhodes at the suggestion of MCC-Longview English instructor Jan Rog.

“When I learned about the opportunity to nominate a student for the Newman Civic Fellowship, I immediately thought of Crystal,” Rog says. “She’s an agent of change who brings joy and hope to others.”

Rhodes says she was shocked by Rog’s nomination “because I had her as an instructor my very first year at MCC-Longview. I did not know that she would do such a thing. But I am very honored that she saw so much potential in me.”

She was filled with joy — and cried tears of joy — when she learned about her fellowship.

Getting to this point hasn’t been easy for Rhodes. She says she was sexually abused at the age of 14. Growing up, she helped raise her younger siblings. She feels she didn’t have a true childhood and didn’t get a lot of support from her family.

“All my life I felt neglected from family, felt like I was not good enough, felt like nobody understood me, and at times it seemed like I was just all alone in a dark place.”

For Rhodes, City Union Mission’s Camp CUMCITO near Warsaw, Missouri, provided some escape. She says it allowed her to be herself and to connect with other kids.

After graduating from camp, Rhodes returned to help as a volunteer. She realized that working with younger children is her passion. “Being around children pushes me to become a better person and allows me to be a leader and someone they can always look up to,” she says.

The experience has led her to pursue an associate in arts degree with an emphasis in social work. After MCC, she plans to transfer to UMKC.

Rhodes volunteers at Urban Christian Academy grade school and is also a mentor for the Boys and Girls Club. She works with children at City Union Mission. And she’s a volunteer cheer and dance coach.

Rhodes (right) with Chancellor Kimberly Beatty and Dr. Beatty’s mother, Gloria Shelton

Rog says her former student’s passion to help others extended to classmates as well. “She always gave them credit for the work they did, yet pushed them to complete their assignments, try harder and give their best.” The instructor noted Rhodes’ good-natured spirit, her kindness and her ability to help a small group form a community.

Rhodes made a presentation about her volunteer work at a student leadership event at MCC-Penn Valley. Many of her instructors and the people she serves were in attendance. In April, she was honored by Chancellor Beatty and the Board of Trustees.

Dr. Beatty wrote a leadership profile about Rhodes for the Newman Civic Fellowship. In it, she states, “Attendees would not have taken time to come cheer her on and support her if Crystal’s work was not important in their lives. It was also evident how much they love her just as much as she loves the children she advocates for.”