By Martie Thompson
Mandarin resident Colleen Rodriguez is celebrating her 25th year with The LJD Jewish Family & Community Services (JFCS), and 12th year as CEO. Raised in South Florida, she did her undergraduate work at Palm Beach Atlantic College before attending Florida State University for her master’s degree in social work. She is a licensed clinical social worker who started her career at Stilwell Middle School in Jacksonville, working with a focus on juvenile delinquents. In an effort to affect wider change within the community, she joined JFCS. She said she worked in every department over the years, eventually moving up to the lead role of CEO. She has been married to Eddie Rodriguez, with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, for 15 years. They have two sons and a German shepherd named Roxy.
Q: Why did you first move to Jacksonville?
A: My mother is a Jacksonville native and she and my father moved back to this area to be near my sister’s children when I was in college. During my last semester of working on my master’s degree at FSU, I took an internship here in Jacksonville since everybody was in the area. Once I graduated, I was hired by the same organization that I had the internship with — Communities in Schools.
Q: How did you meet your husband?
A: By then I was working for JFCS. We had the same hairdresser, who set us up. We’ve been together for 20 years and married for 15. I have a bonus son, Jake, who was four years old when Eddie and I married. Now he is a US Marine and Nathan, our younger son, is in sixth grade.
Q: Tell us about what JFCS does.
A: JFCS is a 106-year-old organization and one of the oldest nonprofits in Northeast Florida. It is uniquely and intentionally designed to wrap services around the more than 26,000 people who come through our doors each year. We serve the entire community; 80 percent of our clients are not Jewish. In fact, I am not Jewish!
Q: What services does JFCS offer?
A: Our services basically fit in two categories: first, for basic needs, we offer the Max Block Food Pantry (in 2021 we provided more than 136,000 meals) and financial assistance. Secondly, for higher needs, we offer mental health services (both in school and in the community), we are the largest child welfare provider in Northeast Florida with custody of approximately 470 children on any given day, and we also have the privilege of serving the Jewish community, including approximately 100 Holocaust survivors who live in the area. We provide meals and transportation for seniors and always need volunteers! Also, did you know that the only Holocaust gallery on the East Coast between Atlanta and Miami is located in our building?
Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
A: I really like to see that even when people come to us in crisis, we can meet people where they are. We see what I call the “resilience of human spirit” on a daily basis. When people accept help, they can right themselves and find hope and come out on the other side. That we can be a part of that is hugely rewarding.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: My son is a baseball player, so we spend lots of evenings watching him play. I also love to go boating in the St. Johns River.
[Editor’s Note: Visit www.jfcsjax.org for resources, referrals, and more information.]
Photo courtesy Colleen Rodriguez
Colleen Rodriguez at this year’s JFCS annual spring fundraising event, “Wrapping Ourselves Around the Community.”