The Caring Force Blog November 2023 Workforce Hero: Maria Rodriguez

The Caring Force is pleased to announce that our November TCF Workforce Hero Spotlight honoree is Maria Rodriguez, the Safe Haven Program Manager at On The Rise, Inc. Maria is a very talented leader and thinker who brings enormous warmth and care to her work supporting On The Rise’s advocacy team and participants alike.

1. Tell us about your background.  How did you decide to pursue a career in human services?

My love and curiosity for the work began long before I started working in the field. Unfortunately, I have several family members who have experienced homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence and so on. I witnessed how some systems really failed some of my family members and I felt so incompetent for not knowing enough about any resources for them. Long story short, I was given a wonderful opportunity and my first job in the field to be a Medical Case Manager for a nonprofit called Commonwealth Land Trust. We worked with folks who were chronically homeless and who were then housed through us in SRO’s where they were provided case management. In that job, my eyes truly opened up, I was exposed to many systems, resources, and a large population that was seriously neglected. I learned a lot about my own personal unconscious biases and how to really check myself and for that I’m forever grateful.

After doing that job for some time, I caught myself finding an interest in Domestic Violence, where I then moved on to work at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office as a Victim Witness Advocate. While working at the DA’s office, I was introduced to the criminal justice system where I learned all about the Victim Bill of Rights and how to help people through some of their hardest times of their life in the court system. I absolutely loved the job and was exposed to many populations: DV victims/ survivors, youth, folks with MH issues, etc. I learned so much while doing the work and have been able to take it all with me anywhere else I’ve gone to work at.

Fast forward to today, I am now working at On The Rise as the Safe Haven Program. At OTR we provide services to homeless women, trans and non-binary folks. We are a day drop in center where our main focus is to build meaningful relationships with our participants and meet them where they are. We have advocates who help participants with anything they might need assistance with, provide tangible goods, access to food, showers, clothing, laundry, and more. I absolutely love the work we do and how we do the work with our relational model. Making sure that people are received and feel safe is my main priority because no one should ever be treated like anything less than human.

2. What does a typical day look like for you at your organization?

No day is the same at On The Rise, which makes me smirk a bit every time I’m asked this question. The closest consistency I can share about my days are that we open our Safe Haven Program Monday – Friday in the mornings. Before we open our doors, we have a team check in and make sure to stock up our kitchen for the participants to have food, snacks, breakfast, etc. Throughout the week, I have set meetings with the management team and 1:1 supervisions with the advocates. My main focus is to make sure my team and the participants have whatever they need to succeed, feel supported and safe in our space. I work the Safe Haven at least 3 times a week where we provide advocacy, build meaningful relationships and really meet folks where they are. Everyday is a new day, we never know who will walk through the doors but nevertheless, we welcome them with love and good energy!

3. What is your favorite professional memory?

I have so many favorite memories, this is such a tough question to answer! One of the memories I truly love and makes me happy has been my first Thanksgiving Feast at On The Rise. Every year, we throw a Thanksgiving Lunch for our participants and we completely wine and dine them! We use the Puratin restaurant in Cambridge to host this celebration. We get all of the goodies for our participants, some shrimp cocktails, cheese and crackers for starters and ALL of the main and side dishes one might want for a Thanksgiving meal. It was absolutely beautiful to witness how happy this makes our participants. Many don’t have a place to celebrate Thanksgiving, nor do they get many opportunities to go to a nice restaurant and be treated with respect and love. The smiles, the hugs, the conversations were just so beautiful to witness and be apart of. Seeing participants who haven’t been around for so long but show up for these special celebrations shows how we have worked hard to build long lasting and meaningful relationships. Knowing that I was apart of something so beautiful and in an organization that offers these special moments to share with participants is something I’ll forever hold close to my heart.

Yes, I could’ve shared a “success story” like getting someone into housing, but to me, what keeps me going are these moments. The moments where we can just be together, in community and share those wonderful laughs and stories with each other. Life will continue to be tough and we will continue to work hard to be there for folks however it seems fit, but being able to provide a mini escape is just as valuable and is truly priceless.

4. This question is from our October TCF Workforce Hero Spotlight, Tina Cheek: If you could change one thing within your organization, what would it be?

One thing I would change about our organization is not necessarily a change but an addition; I will love for us to open another On The Rise to expand the support / services we give out to our community.

5. Do you have a question for the next person we spotlight?

We all know this work can be very stressful, what are some self care practices you do to prevent burnout?

Thank you so much to Maria and all of our wonderful human services workers who bring joy and passion to work every day! We are so thankful for your efforts and for making the Commonwealth a better place.

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