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Star of Queens: Rodney Dutton, volunteer, South Asian Center of Urban Nations Outreach

BY ASHA MAHADEVAN

BACKGROUND: Rodney Dutton, 50, was born in Oklahoma, but he moved to Queens in the ’90s. He moved away again as he set about visiting and working in other countries around the world. He traveled to 26 countries before coming back and volunteering at the South Asian Center of Urban Nations Outreach in Jackson Heights three months ago. He likes that Queens is such a diverse borough and he gets to learn about different cultures.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: The South Asian Center offers free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, citizenship test classes and computer classes for adult immigrants, mostly Bengalis, Indians, Pakistanis and Hispanics. Dutton helps out where needed but he is mainly involved with the ESL classes. The students are recent immigrants who are unable to get jobs or even visit a doctor because they cannot communicate in English, he said. They have to depend on their children to translate for them. Learning English boosts their self-esteem, he said. Dutton also helps tutor children on their homework, teaches a Bible study program for those interested, and is one of the organizers of the various events the center hosts, such as a fall festival for children and Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. These events help the students understand American culture, he said.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: “Teaching people English so they can interact with society is a big thing, but I don’t know it is my greatest accomplishment,” he said. “Teaching someone the language brings down the barriers that prevent them from moving forward. They were doctors and lawyers back home but they are standing outside society here and cannot be a part of it. To understand the culture, they have to master the language. It’s a big adjustment.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Getting volunteers is a big challenge. In New York, people are busy, they commute 30-60 minutes to work, work long hours. People want to help but they don’t have the time. Once they start volunteering, they continue, but getting them is a big challenge.”

INSPIRATION: “Jesus Christ is my inspiration. He taught truth, he helped people, he stood up against injustice. Through Him, we can know God. He lived a sacrificial life, helped people and wanted them to have a better life. He is my greatest example and my hero.”

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