RJ’s Hot Dog Dayz
A short-lived safe haven in the Rocky Mount Amtrak Station.By Rhonda Johnson
Life led me to North Carolina in 1999 after my 17-year-old son was killed in Baltimore. Country life saved my sanity. My grandmother was from here and would bring me here often as a child. I always loved this country.
I had been an employment counselor since 1983, helping any and every one that needed my help. I left my job three years ago and opened the sweetest café, RJ’s Hot Dog Dayz, in the Rocky Mount Amtrak Station. I befriended the homeless, hungry and unemployed.
Some of them had lost hope and slept or sat, day in and day out, at the station. There was never a day that I left anyone hungry. I assisted them with finding jobs, or with disability benefits and places to stay, providing carfare, work boots, resumes. I fed and counseled the teens who hung out in the station, just trying to keep them out of trouble and in school. They got their hair cut for helping me out in the café. (A picture shows them helping me at Christmas.) My train station kids helped to fill the hole left in my heart from losing my son.
One day a woman who worked in the train station told me she overheard a lady say, “She’ll never make it, because she gives away too much.” Perhaps she was right, because I didn’t earn enough to pay the bills and had to leave the Amtrak station. My train kids were so sad, as well as the people I fed and looked out for, such as my senior citizens who hung out there and told their tall tales.
I have been checking on some places, and if God blesses me I can continue to give the homeless, helpless and underprivileged food, jobs and help in any capacity I can. RJ’s may be gone from the Amtrak station, but it will never be forgotten. And by the grace of God, I will return to do bigger and better things to help people.