News & Events
This volunteer helps migrant children feel safe
Hector Rodriguez is no stranger to integrating into a new culture. Hector was born in Puerto Rico and moved with his family to Manhattan when he was 4. That very personal experience brings a level of understanding and compassion to his volunteer work at our Passage of Hope program for unaccompanied migrant youth. He quickly connects to the young people in our care and makes them feel welcomed in their new country.
Like clockwork, the 74-year-old retired social worker comes every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to the Passage of Hope program on our Yonkers campus. He brings with him not only his own experience but a lifetime committed to helping children and youth who need to overcome adversity and trauma in their lives.
“The children know that he’ll be coming,” explains Diana G. Amado, Vice President of Rising Ground’s Unaccompanied Migrant Children Program. “Such consistency is very important to the children because they have experienced so much change. They look forward to seeing him because he’s caring and genuine. He’s always laughing. It’s hard not to feel happy around him.”
Rodriguez’s positive attitude fits right in with the safe, nurturing environment of Passage of Hope. The program provides food, shelter, clothes, medical care, education, and recreation for unaccompanied migrant children and teens. Corporate partners such as Regeneron also visit to engage students in STEM activities. The youngsters live in home-like residential cottages or in homes in the community, attend school, and take day trips to New York City attractions during their short stay at Rising Ground. Our goal is to quickly connect each child and teen to a parent or relative so they can live in a stable and loving home.
Like our staff, Rodriguez is sensitive to the trauma the children and teens have experienced. They have fled violence, poverty, and hunger to make the long, harrowing journey to the United States to be safe and be cared for by their relatives who reside in this country.
“Any child separated from his or her family can experience trauma, anxiety, and depression,” says Rodriguez, a Yonkers resident and a former clinical social worker at a Bronx community health center. “I help them understand they are in a safe place where the staff really cares and wants to help them.”
Clinicians, caseworkers, teachers, and other staff members appreciate having an extra pair of experienced hands at their disposal. Rodriguez steps in where he can and helps clinicians facilitate group discussions about what it’s like for kids and teens in the United States. He also works as a teacher’s aide in the classroom, where children are taught English, math, science, and social studies. He works with students one-on-one to help them advance in reading and math.
“Hector is always working with children. You never see him standing by himself,” says Amado. She points to his knack to getting kids to open up when they are experiencing difficulties.
Right now, Rodriguez has no intention of leaving the children at Passage of Hope any time soon. “I’ve never met a volunteer as dedicated, passionate, and responsible as Hector,” Amada says. “His positive impact on our work and on the lives of the vulnerable children and adolescents we support cannot be measured.”
The work of Rising Ground is enhanced by individual, group, and corporate volunteers who contribute their time and talents to Passage of Hope and the more than 50 programs across New York City helping children, adults, and families find positive paths forward. To learn more about opportunities to volunteer with Rising Ground, click here or contact us at [email protected] or 914-375-8794.