The Ordinary Extraordinary Innovative Spirit of Dr. James Rodriguez, MSW
PHOTOS COURTESY OF FATHERS & FAMILIES COALITION OF AMERICA
Innovation is the practice of developing and introducing new ideas, concepts, and things. Dr. James Rodriguez, MSW, should be recognized as an innovative leader of the last quarter of a century in light of this truth. Within the first five minutes of speaking with Rodriguez, it was evident that the spirit of innovation runs through the veins of this passionate leader. Rodriguez is the Chief Executive Officer and President of the national organization, Fathers and Families Coalition of America (FFCA).
FFCA was founded in 1996 and created out of a need for proper resources to support fathers and families to raise healthy, well-rounded children. Rodriguez took an opportunity to develop his local vision of supporting fathers and families into a national and now global experience for families and professionals who work with families. Today, FFCA has a worldwide audience and an international coalition that gathers annually to network, educate, and provide services to professionals and families.
"Sometimes you have to go through adversity or trauma to go to transformation, but when you get through that, you have to go through transcendence.”
Rodriguez's love for supporting families comes from his own broken family. According to Rodriguez, he is the product of the "projects" and the child welfare system because his father could not properly care for him without the support of the state. Rodriguez's father would later leave when he was six years old, leaving his mother and grandmother to raise him.
So how did Rodriguez's initial story of pain and lack lead to his creating and developing the FFCA? According to Rodriguez, "Sometimes you have to go through adversity or trauma to go to transformation, but when you get through that, you have to go through transcendence."
Rodriguez explains that when you transcend, you have the most significant impact on others.
Rodriguez's military experience as an Army combat medic specializing in trauma-related injuries and his position as a substance abuse counselor in the Air Force helped shape him. Service as a counselor led him to volunteer to assist young Black and Brown fathers who were "gang bangers" while serving in the Air Force. His volunteer experience opened the door to a research opportunity at Arizona State University. That experience would catalyst for Rodriguez's further transformation and transcendence into one of the leading voices for fathers and families.
Rodriguez began working with Head Start after leaving active duty. He was asked to be the lead group therapist even though he did not have his master's degree. As a single father working full time, with no extended family to support him, Rodriguez's life qualified him to speak on behalf of the people he served.
While servicing families, Rodriguez saw a need for transportation services and decided to write a program and apply for a 6 million dollar grant. The grant would connect people living in poverty in rural Arizona to the metropolitan areas in Phoenix and Tucson. Despite the doubters, Rodriguez applied and received the grant. At 31 years of age, he oversaw a 6 million dollar program that changed many underrepresented families' lives. The seeds for FFCA had been sewn.
Twenty-three years into the organization, FFCA has four main components: professional development, networking (building relationships), being the "Champion of Champions" for healthy families and children, and creating synergy around all people to advocate for social justice. These components are found in all of their programs, aligning with the agency's mantra: "finding a cause bigger than self."
Rodriguez's cause has led him to reach out to those who can help him reach underrepresented people in need and the professionals who seek to help them. His work has led local politicians like Holly Mitchell, Karen Bass, and Maxine Waters to provide support. In appreciation for her service, Holly Mitchell received the 2019 FFCA Honorable John S, Martinez National Leadership Award.
This year's annual conference, the 23rd Annual Fathers and Families International Conference, will be a hybrid conference held virtually and in Los Angeles, California, from March 8 -11, 2022. The theme, “Love The Last Word,” is close to Rodriguez's heart. After experiencing loss all around him, and not enough affirmation of love from those who had to leave too soon, Rodriguez realized that love needed to be emphasized in the 2022 conference.
The conference will host more than 50 workshops, specialty training programs, networking opportunities, podcasts, and a must-attend closing gala. Whether you participate in person or online, this is the one conference you don't want to miss. Join Rodriguez and the FFCA network and lead with love so that love will be the last word.
Visit fathersandfamiliescoalition.org to register today.