Love Where You Live: Rodney Dale pays forward life lessons to Elkhart kids

By Marshall V. King

When Rodney Dale was a boy, he played football and basketball with other boys in the neighborhood.

When he got to junior high and high school in Elkhart, coaches helped shape him into an athlete and a young man preparing for adulthood.

“For me it was the opportunity be part of a family, make some memories, and enjoy the sport,” he said.

As an adult, he realizes how much that coaching and mentoring from men such as Jim Eger, Dan Randolph and Ron Stork meant to him.

“I needed that mentoring I got,” he said.

Rodney Dale mentors Elkhart kids in much the same way that adults he looked up to did. “Make it happen,” Rodney says.

Now he works to make sure that if someone needs a mentor, particularly a boy in fifth or sixth grade, they get a mentor too. He’s mentoring nine young men at five Elkhart schools. They’re often boys without a father active in their lives.

For Dale, it’s a simple equation. If you have a chance to make a difference, you do it. “Make it happen,” he said.

Week after week, he does. “I think I’m in a position to influence in a positive way. The kids will listen to me,” said the division chief at the Elkhart Fire Department.

Since coming back to Elkhart after a few years of college and joining the fire department in 1996, Dale has mentored hundreds of young people. He was a coach for his son and daughter’s athletic teams and mentored in that role. Often, he shows up at school and spends time listening and talking to young people. He emphasizes that grades matter. He encourages them and celebrates their successes. “We have a lot of opportunities here ranging from factory work to being some kind of business professional,” he said.

He wants young people who grow up here to be successful for years to come in Elkhart County, but that doesn’t just happen. It takes people mentoring and walking alongside. So Dale simply does that for as many young people as he can to build a better community.

Marshall V. King is a Goshen-based free-lance writer. He wrote this on behalf of Vibrant Communities.

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