DENVER — Dwayne Rhodes and his six-year-old son, Kai, are finally settling down in Denver after a really rocky road since the start of the pandemic.
“I ended up losing my restaurant in Puerto Vallarta called Burgers and Bistro,” Rhodes said. “I was the CEO and chef.”
Their journey starts there with Rhodes as a renowned chef in the Mexican resort town.
“That’s why we went to Mexico in the first place was to buy a restaurant,” Rhodes said. “I competed in restaurant week in the Mexican Riviera against 415 international chefs and was named the No. 1 chef in Mexico.”
But then, it all came crashing down in 2020.
“At that time, Mexico shut down everything, so we had to return to the United States,” Rhodes said.
But he and his wife and Kai couldn’t get across the border for nearly three years and when they finally were allowed to cross in February of this year, they had to leave Rhodes’ wife behind because her passport from Spain had expired, and Mexico would not allow her to cross according to Rhodes.
“We basically just walked and hitch-hiked to San Antonio, Texas,” Rhodes said of the trek he and Kai made across Texas after crossing the border.
The father-son pair meandered their way through Texas for weeks, eventually making it back to Colorado in March, the place where Rhodes had grown up.
But by this time, he and Kai were severely down on their luck.
“I was almost $4,000 overdrawn on my credit card and my bank,” Rhodes said. “We had no money at all.”
And then, one snowy day this past March, Rhodes swallowed his pride and walked into the District 6 station of the Denver Police Department.
“Immediately, as soon as we walked in there – an officer came out with a blanket,” Rhodes said. “And he just grabbed Kai. They brought me food, they brought everything.”
The DPD put Rhodes and Kai up in a motel, and DPD Outreach Case Coordinator Kaylee Salinas took it from there.
“The next phone call I got was from KayLee Salinas,” Rhodes said.
“So, Dwayne and I talked for a while,” Salinas said. “Then we were able to extend his hotel stay while he was looking for more permanent accommodations.”
Salinas was familiar with Rhodes’ story by now and knew with a little help he could turn things around.
“From my experience in this position, if we have clients that are willing to work, not just work on themselves and their situations, but work and get employment and get income and do what they need to do — because it’s essentially, my job. I can’t do it without my clients, then it will work,” Salinas said.
As long as clients are willing to meet her halfway by seeking employment, Salinas and her outreach team are often hugely successful.
“Now, today, I’m the executive chef at the Denver Rescue Mission,” Rhodes said.
Thanks to the DPD’s outreach team, Rhodes and Kai have landed squarely on their feet here in Denver.
“So essentially, having his apartment, he’s able to walk his son a block and a half to school, go to work, come home, pick up his son and cook a hot meal,” Salinas said.
In the meantime, the fight to complete their family by getting Dwayne’s wife here continues.
“She’s still trapped down in Mexico,” Rhodes said.
“Right now, I’m dealing with the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) here in Denver and the consulate down in Mexico,” Rhodes said.
But, Rhodes said, it’s a story of gratitude at the moment.
“Now, I actually have $19 in my account,” Rhodes said. “So I feel I’m doing pretty good.”
“It’s clients like Dwayne, where they’ve put in so much work and you’ve gotten to know them over a long period of time that they become your friend,” Salinas said.
“You walk by a police officer, it’s okay to say, ‘Hey, you’re doing a good job,’” Rhodes said. “I can’t tell you how much they helped me.”
“I say it’s like a friendship, I think it’s more of like a trust,” Salinas said. “They now have someone in their corner that they know they can go to.”