“Statistically,” said Dwayne Rodriguez, “I’m not supposed to be having this conversation. I’m supposed to be in jail or dead or addicted.”
Rodriguez, operations lead II at UGI’s Lancaster office in Pennsylvania, grew up in the inner city with a single mother who struggled with addiction and a younger brother he helped raise. “It was a rough childhood,” said Rodriguez. “For other kids in the same situation, it could have gone the total opposite way. A lot of times, I say I feel I have way more than I deserve given my background.”
Rodriguez said that somehow, he “steered opposite. … I didn’t want to go the same route I saw other people around me going.”
He also gives credit to his high school electronics instructor, Kirk Longenecker, who encouraged him to earn his associate degree. “He cared,” said Rodriguez. “He took me under his wing and gave me direction. I’m forever grateful.”
So, when Rodriguez had a chance to give back through UGI’s BOLD (Black Organizational Leadership and Development) program, he wanted to do for another child what Mr. Longenecker had done for him.
BOLD connected him with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region, and after the long application process, Rodriguez was matched with a 14-year-old boy with many of the same experiences Rodriguez had—and even worse.
When he and his “Little” are playing arcade games or working on crafts, Rodriguez talks about how to handle big emotions including repressed anger, hurt and pain. Teenage boys don’t say much, but Rodriguez says he has seen his Little come out of his shell and be vulnerable about what he has experienced. “These streets will eat you alive,” said Rodriguez. “If I could help contribute to bettering his mindset and thought process and drive, I think I’ll have done my job.”
When Rodriguez learned that more than 30 children are on BBBS’s waiting list in Lancaster alone, “it broke my heart,” he said. He emailed UGI’s community relations department, which not only shared Rodriguez’s story to encourage others to volunteer, but also surprised him with a certificate of appreciation.
For Rodriguez, it simply comes down to this: “Everyone should make a conscious effort to give something that’s going to benefit someone less fortunate,” he said.