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Someone to CARE | By Thad Mumau

When Jean Rhoads walked through the front doors of the CARE Clinic on a recent Thursday night, time stood still.

She stood surrounded by patients and volunteers, the way she did 10 years ago. Executive Director Cathy Ory turned to the woman everyone calls Sister Jean and said, “See how the seed you planted has grown.”

Rhoads served as the clinic’s first director. It was she who helped make the vision of a free medical and dental clinic in Cumberland County a reality. The dream was born in 1986, and in 1992, the Daughters of Charity sent Rhoads to lead what became known as the Compassion Assistance Referral Education Clinic. It opened a year later on Robeson Street near downtown Fayetteville.

Although countless volunteers, including doctors, dentists, nurses, physician’s assistants and pharmacists have provided the heart and soul of the clinic, someone had to make it happen. That someone was Jean Rhoads.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” she said in a recent interview. “I wouldn’t say that at all. More than anything, I was a cheerleader. I stood on the sidelines and cheered everyone on. There were a whole lot of people who did so much. When you get right down to it, I did very little.”

That’s not what you would hear from those involved with the CARE Clinic. They will tell you that without Sister Jean a wonderful idea would never have been anything more.

Rhoads was born in Baltimore, Md., in 1956, the fourth of nine children. Growing up, she wanted to marry and have children of her own. But she was eventually called into a different family.

“I was taught by sisters in high school,” she recalls, “and I loved how they prayed and lived in community so they could help each other help others. Although I wanted a family, I felt a greater call to be a Daughter of Charity (a religious community throughout the world).”

Rhoads graduated from Mount Saint Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., and then taught. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and worked as a nurse in Florida. She returned to school, earning a master’s in health administration at George Washington University. She was managing a cancer clinic in Baltimore when she got the call to head to Fayetteville.

“I had not a clue how to set up a clinic,” she says. “The miracle of it was that I just asked questions and kept learning. Everybody seemed to know somebody who could help in some way. My role was to put the mission before them. I really wouldn’t consider myself as the clinic’s leader. I just asked people to help us. I can’t remember anyone telling us no.”

The clinic has now been providing healthcare to the poor for 15 years. In November, staff and volunteers dedicated a new custom-built facility. Rhoads saw it for the first time in May. Though she left Fayetteville in 1998 and now works in her native state, Ory says her visit made it seem as if she never left. “I think her heart is still here.”