From Foster Care to Gubernatorial Dreams
Across the United States, Devereux centers serve tens of thousands of individuals every year. Our goal for each of the thousands we serve is that each individual leaves with hope and tools they can use for a brighter future. Although many former clients show their appreciation to Devereux by returning as donors, volunteers, or even Devereux staff, rarely does this group share their challenging stories. Obed Rodriguez is the exception.
Obed reconnected with Devereux at a recent behavioral health conference and agreed to an interview. He is hopeful that his story will inspire youth with similar challenges to believe that anything is possible. Below is Obed’s story.
At the tender age of seven, Obed was recruited into a Tucson street gang. He explained that he didn’t have a choice about joining, but he also admitted that he liked the sense of belonging that came with being a part of the gang. “The gang fed us, clothed us and treated us like family,” he explained. Even though he knew that much of what the gang did was wrong, he still felt like someone cared about him.
When Obed turned 12, he and his brother were placed with a relative after both parents had passed away. The aunt they were placed with soon realized caring for two adolescent boys was more than she could handle so they were sent to group care. After a year, the youth pastors of the church the boys were attending through their group home, stepped up to become foster parents for the siblings. A short while later, Obed’s anger and frustration surfaced and he ran away. As a result, he ended up in Devereux’s group home, Casa Valor, in 2013.
Obed was eager to share his experience at Devereux and credits the staff for making him feel valued as a human being. In Obed’s own words, “…the staff were the most important part of my life there. Like Miss Lenore. I remember she stayed up all night baking a tres leches cake from scratch. I also remember Terry Norton coming in on Saturday morning and making homemade breakfast. She made cinnamon rolls from scratch, eggs, and bacon. All the boys would help cook and clean. And then there was Michelle Weinheimer being the ear I needed every night to talk. I knew with her my words were safe.”
When asked if his experience at Devereux had influenced his career aspirations, Obed replied, “Most definitely! Valor changed me as a man and gave me the foundation to help youth in our community. While living in a group setting, I learned that you don’t have to do everything alone. Others will help and support your goals.” Obed is currently the chairman of the United Youth Leadership Council and Adviser to Youth On the Rise. Presently, he is enrolled in community college and will likely be completing his degree in political science, although he is also interested in engineering. However, because of his motivation to see change in the world, especially with youth, combined with his love of his native state and his conviction to become the Governor of Arizona, a degree in political science seems to be a natural choice.
I asked this very special young man if he had any advice for youth currently in Devereux programs who may be struggling with challenges. Obed said, “Each [person] is special no matter what anyone has told you. You hold in your hands the ability to change the world, you just need to find something you love [to do] and put your body and soul into it. Apply yourself and prove to all those people who said you couldn’t [do it] wrong.”
Besides Obed’s very full plate, he is interested in doing motivational speaking and is currently involved in a new nonprofit project called The Reengagement Center (The REC). The REC helps youth 16-24 with a multitude of subjects including obtaining their GED, computer training, culinary arts, etc. Basically, The REC is designed to be the “go-to” place where youth in poverty can get on track with Pathway Coaches to help them discover or develop whatever skill sets or interests they may have. The ultimate goal of the center is to provide these vulnerable youth with a sense of purpose so as to keep them from ending up in prison, gangs, addicted to substances, and/or homeless. Because of Obed’s background and his desire to help, many youth will benefit.
On behalf of Devereux, we applaud your choices, Obed, and thank you for your willingness to share your inspiring story with others. We will also be anxiously waiting for our invitation to the Governor’s Inauguration in the near future. Governor Rodriguez has a very nice ring to it.