James Rhodes answered the call of his country to serve in combat in the Vietnam War. While serving with the 6th Special Operations Squadron Search and Rescue, he truly took to heart the meaning of duty, honor and justice, which served as motivating factors for Rhodes in serving his community.
Rhodes has been a part of the Camp Hill, Alabama community for approximately six years, and during that time he has been a catalyst for change. This small community of less than 1,500 people has accomplished extraordinary gains as a result of Rhodes. Camp Hill had the highest unemployment rate in the county, highest secondary dropout rate, lowest school test scores, highest rate of teen pregnancies, highest percentage of people on social services and they had no youth services.
When Rhodes and his family arrived in the area, the school system was ranked one of the worst in the state. That was a major concern to him so he began to take action. Rhodes began by establishing an after school and off-site tutoring program to give additional needed help. He founded a youth sports program with a “flagship” of American Legion baseball. He established a working relationship with the farm club of the Cleveland Indians, and professional baseball has hosted numerous seminars and clinics to upgrade the skills of the disadvantaged Camp Hill teens.
Rhodes also worked with the Children’s Trust Fund of the State of Alabama and established the country’s first programs for at risk students. They deal with potential dropouts, anger management, teen pregnancy and alcohol and drug abuse. Now the Camp Hill School System is no longer on the state probationary list, and several students who went through Rhode’s baseball program are in college on baseball scholarships. In addition, Rhodes assists in running local Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programs.
Rhodes also takes the time to assist local veterans. He works with them one-on-one and on a case-by-case basis. Rhodes helps the veterans with requests to obtain medical and mental coverage that they are afforded by law but have not been awarded. Though many of the veterans face “red tape,” Rhodes takes the time to make sure they are aware of their rights and he fights to help them get what they fought for and are entitled.
Rhodes has produced change in Camp Hill, and sadly sometimes doing what is correct and needed has negative consequences. Initially, many opposed Rhode’s integrated baseball team. His family suffered vandalism to their property and vehicles and even death threats. However, Rhodes continued to make a positive change in his community. He taught residents about their rights and laws, and for the first time in Camp Hill history, community members signed state petitions against their own public officials because of corruption, misappropriation of funds and theft. Rhodes continues his campaign for justice and has generated statewide support. He has been featured on “20/20” for his tireless efforts, and he tells everyone his service has been a family effort.