As a teenager, Celina Rodriguez, Director of Family Services at Prospect Family Residence, experienced living in a homeless shelter with her single mother and four siblings.
Now, she channels that experience into coordinating comprehensive support for homeless families seeking to secure permanent housing and financial stability.
“It helps me to communicate with people very differently because I know how it is to be on the other side,” Rodriguez says. “Family Services is big on building people up.”
After receiving her BA in Psychology from Fordham University, Rodriguez joined Prospect as a Case Manager in 2015 before being promoted to Director of Family Services in 2017.
She is responsible for managing a team of Client Care Coordinators, Housing and Employment Specialists, and Case Managers who conduct intakes with all new residents, assess their unique needs and challenges, and together act as a vital support network for families as they work towards long-term stability.
“The way the team is set up is really important because we need all of these positions,” Rodriguez says of the integral part each staff member plays in empowering clients. “It’s not just about moving them out. It’s about getting everything, all the services they need.”
Despite her leadership role, Rodriguez continues to take a personal approach with clients, introducing herself to families during intake meetings and ensuring that they feel comfortable by promoting open communication, staff cohesion, and an open-door office policy.
“I like to talk to the clients and make them understand why things are happening,” she says. “When you open up that communication and give them that respect, they’re more open with you.”
She expects an equally considerate and open approach from everyone on her team at Family Services. “Always, communication,” she emphasizes. “Talk to each other. That’s how you build a team and that’s how we have to work it. If somebody’s lost, everybody’s lost.”
Dorothea Nixon, Director of Prospect Family Support Center, says Rodriguez is often able to cultivate strong relationships with clients and staff, thereby empowering clients towards long-term stability.
“Family Services is the backbone of the organization,” says Nixon. “It takes a highly organized, committed, strong, and dedicated individual with excellent observation skills and keen decision-making abilities to run that department.”
In addition to her role at Prospect, Rodriguez is currently pursuing a Master’s in Criminal Justice and Human Resources, and ultimately hopes to work at the intersection of criminal justice, psychology, and substance abuse.
As for her inspiration, Rodriguez credits the close relationship she developed with a Case Manager at the shelter where she once lived.
“I wanted to do what she did for me,” she says. “I was fifteen, and I still talk to her now, so I feel like that is something great that anybody here could build.”