With a passion for serving others, C&IS alumna Avery Rhodes knew early in her life that she wanted to make a difference in her community. After completing two degrees from C&IS and working as a public speaking instructor for five years, Rhodes focused in on her passion by volunteering within the homeless community in Birmingham, Alabama.
She served meals, participated in service work and met with families experiencing homelessness to learn about their background and their struggles. Additionally, she conducted academic research on poverty, racism and homelessness in America to further understand the issues she was witnessing.
“This really turned upside down my understanding of homelessness and how it is perceived,” Rhodes explained of her experience. “The communicated word about people experiencing homelessness is usually very negative and oftentimes very false, and it’s harmful to that community of people who might be trying to break some of the barriers that they have in front of them to move forward.”
After years of serving communities of people experiencing homelessness, she decided to be even more permanently involved. From this desire blossomed the idea for Community on the Rise, a nonprofit organization that prioritizes people experiencing homelessness & poverty in Birmingham.
“At Community on the Rise, we’re committed to community empowerment and focus on connecting the community to housing, education, healing and employment,” Rhodes said.
As the executive director of Community on the Rise, she spends her time focusing on each of these principles so that she can play a role in empowering her community to reach its full potential.
“I see poverty as an unjust and unfair system that leaves some people without access to the kind of resources that they need and deserve, and it leaves all of us lacking the benefit of those people being able to contribute to our societies,” Rhodes said. “The people I know have a myriad of talents, strengths and gifts that need to be shared, and if you’re stuck in a tragic situation, you don’t have the bandwidth, energy or time to give those gifts. So, ultimately, we all suffer from that.”
Through Community on the Rise, Rhodes has served people experiencing homelessness and poverty through creating employment and housing opportunities, assisting community members in recovering identity documents, developing a healing circlecalled Community Table and more.
Her commitment to her community is unwavering, and she credits much of the knowledge and experiences she gained through C&IS with shaping her worldview and impacting her career trajectory.
“My experience within the College of Communication and the greats who poured into me – Dr. Frank Thompson, Dr. Mark Nelson, Dr. Beth Bennett, and Dr. Dexter Gordon – endowed me with the tools I needed to ask thorough questions, to explore my world more widely and to be open to people and perspective,” Rhodes said. “That absolutely put me on the path to discover my purpose and to use my passion. For that, I am forever grateful.”
As Rhodes reflected on her career path thus far, she noted that all professionals should incorporate two things into their careers – finding what brings them joy and finding a problem they are passionate about solving.
“I think it’s so important to ask yourself what brings you joy and also what problem you want to solve,” Rhodes said. “I think asking these questions can set you on a path where you are not just doing your work, but cultivating things within your work that can be really life-giving.”
Through its mission to connect people experiencing homelessness to housing, education, healing and employment, Community on the Rise prioritizes its community and works to remove barriers. Learn more about the nonprofit organization here.