Ennis native Rodrick Smith has ultimately demonstrated his personal quote he solely lives by, “Freely I receive of the Lord, so freely I give back,” which earned him the National Mentor of the Year Award for 2007 on May 22.

Smith received this prestigious award during the sixth annual Power of a Dream Gala ceremony held recently at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Dream Academy executive director Diane Wallace Booker presented Smith with the award, alongside Dream Academy founder and CEO Wintley Phipps, former CNN news anchor, Leon Harris, and actor/comedian Chris Tucker.

During this ceremony, Smith was also accompanied by gospel legend Tramaine Hawkins, U.S Rep. Shelia Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., U.S. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah and others.

In accepting this award, Smith described the feeling to be that of “great,” considering the wide range of mentors and volunteers nominated.

“As far as the organization goes, you are up against hundreds of mentors and volunteers throughout America so to receive this award means a whole lot to me,” Smith said, noting he was nominated by the staff he works with. “This award lets me know that my labor is not in vain so to know that I am helping these kids means a whole lot to me because I didn’t become a mentor for my own selfish reasons.”

Smith said to this award, he owes God, his mother, Linda Smith; his Ennis Mt. Zion Church family, his strong consistency and his strong dedication toward the kids.

“I think what made me stand out from others was my dedication and my consistency with the kids,” he said. “Not only that, but giving hugs on a daily basis to each of those 30 to 40 children. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a “hugger” and they know the moment Mr. Rodrick steps into the center, I am hugging everyone. Before, I would just stretch my arms out to them but now when they see me, they are running up to me with their arms outstretched.

“I just want the kids to know that I am going to be consistent in their lives and that’s something they’ve never had,” he continued. “I show them unconditional love but what I really think helped this award was the hugging.”

The U.S. Dream Academy aims to break the cycle of incarceration by giving children the skills and vision necessary to lead productive and fulfilling lives, which Smith says he can truly relate to.

“I grew up without my father so this academy is preparing me for fatherhood because what I went through is nothing compared to what these kids go through,” he said.

“This academy is preparing me to give back to those at-risk kids who have either one or both parents incarcerated and also for those kids living in an at-risk neighborhood, so if I can offer them a positive black man with positive views, then that’s awesome,” he continued. “Our goal at the academy is to break the cycle of incarceration so I want to show them (the kids) that just because both parents are not present doesn’t mean they can’t be successful.”

Although this is Smith’s first national award, he was previously honored as Houston’s Mentor of the Year at its annual appreciation dinner, which he also considered to be a highlight of his volunteerism.

“We have about 30 to 40 kids at the center but I am responsible for only mentoring one child named Chris,” Smith explained, noting he gives of himself to others too. “I really want to be there for as many kids as possible because there is so much need.”

Smith has been Chris’ mentor for a year and a half, strongly encouraging him to look for different avenues of success.

Smith’s devotion has helped expose Chris to different career options and has helped him maintain grades strong enough to be a part of the Gifted and Talented Program at his school.

“Being able to see the smiles on the children’s faces is worth everything I do at the center,” Smith said. “It just makes me feel good to see how these kids feel when I am around them. My determination of giving back to these kids is what motivates me to continue mentoring. I thank God for what He is doing in my life and for allowing me to give back.”

Smith is a 1996 graduate of Ennis High School and a 2000 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches where he received a bachelor’s degree in business administration/accounting.

He is employed as an accountant with the McNair Group/NFL’s Houston Texans.

The U.S. Dream Academy is an after school-based program dedicated to helping children stay in school and achieve their dreams through education and mentoring partnerships.

For more information about the U.S. Dream Academy, visit the www.usdreamacademy.com Web site.

E-mail Chicarra at chicarra.dense@waxahachiedailylight.com