Passion exudes from 68-year-old William Rodriguez as he discusses details of the cases he manages for Team Rubicon’s Puerto Rico rebuild project. To Rodriguez, a native Puerto Rican from Vega Alta, each case isn’t a number or a situation where needs and risk have been assessed, but a personal story he has the privilege to hear and a journey he gets to go on with a fellow human being. Daily, he interacts with up to one hundred people, driving all over the island, while fielding phone calls for others who vie for his time and his expertise, as well as his compassionate, listening ear.
Rodriguez officially works for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, where his title is President of the Council of the Diocese of Puerto Rico. This is a volunteer (meaning unpaid) position and he sees his work as “what I love most and I do it 24/7,” he said. St. Vincent de Paul Society first arrived in Puerto Rico back in 1858, and has been “helping to care for people and help them get their needs met continuously for the past 160 years,” Rodriguez said. And this is why Team Rubicon’s rebuild projects are symbiotic with the mission of St. Vincent de Paul. The two organizations have a memorandum of understanding that St. Vincent would provide case management and social and financial needs assessment and would make recommendations to Team Rubicon who would then use that information to rebuild roofs and houses. Rodriguez’s wife serves as the second case manager thanks to a grant provided by Team Rubicon.
Rodriguez said that his organization is faith-based and that he does his work “because of my love for God, who pushes us and inspires us. When we witness a need, the solutions and resources come to us and we become a means to fulfill that need.” He said that he and Hilda Vlachopoulou, TR’s Puerto Rico rebuild project manager have seen that happen time and time again. While TR provides the new roofs, many homeowners have lost everything or nearly everything so they need mattresses and appliances and furniture. And St. Vincent themselves or other partner agencies do their best to meet all of the additional needs.
On a Wednesday morning in mid-September, Rodriguez, clad in black with a big silver crucifix hanging to his broad chest, invited Vlachopoulou and two other TR members on a ride along to visit one very demolished home that would be a part of the TR home rebuilding project and to another home where the roof rebuild was complete and where St. Vincent had donated a refrigerator, a washing machine, doors, and other necessities. We met a young mother and her baby, who had been born 11 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall. She expressed gratitude to Rodriguez for all he had done for her, and as he stood in the doorway and inspected the splintered places on her front door he promised to bring her a new one soon. She thanked him and said how much safer she felt with everything fixed and because of everything he and Team Rubicon had done for her.
Later, Rodriguez, who has the energy of a man much younger, admitted that his wife used to get frustrated and worried at all of the hours he and Vlachopoulou put in, sometimes even forgetting to stop for meals. But now that she, too, works as a case manager and daily meets people and listens to their stories and becomes a source of help, she finds herself doing the same thing.
“We are a team,” he said, referring to his wife, himself and Vlachopoulou, as well as St. Vincent de Paul Society and Team Rubicon. And he’s blessed to be on a team that is fulfilling so many needs of poorest people in Puerto Rico.