When Colleen Rodriguez looks back at her 25-year career with The LJD Jewish Family & Community Services, she is most proud of her work growing the agency’s reach of helping and advocating for those in need.

Under Colleen’s leadership JFCS has expanded from 80 employees and a budget of $5.6 million in 2011 to 200 employees and a $17 million budget this year. And perhaps more importantly, her integrity and  deeply-rooted compassion for the families who come to JFCS serve as a model for the day-to-day workings of the agency. She leads by example and is a fierce advocate for spotlighting issues that the community often finds tough to talk about: the stigmatization of mental health, child abuse, tolerance and inclusion, food insecurity and homelessness. To solve a problem, it first needs to be acknowledged as existing.

“When I realized I could jump in and be part of making a change –  I did.”

From the beginning of her time at JFCS, Colleen has considered herself a “boots-on-the-ground” kind of person. She started her career as a licensed clinical social worker at Stilwell Middle School, working with kids in the juvenile justice system. Two years later, she moved into a new counseling position where she worked with sexually abused children. During her time interacting directly with children and families, Colleen saw firsthand the difficult challenges these children faced.

Colleen’s experiences motivated her to take on more responsibilities and move into roles that could create wider change in the community. She became the first community-based supervisor for child welfare that wasn’t under the Florida Department of Children and Families, and after working in a variety of departments, she was selected as the first Chief Programs Officer of the organization. Today, Colleen has served 12 years in the lead role of Chief Executive Officer.

“It’s been a privilege to grow up here at JFCS. I feel very fortunate because that’s unusual. When you see people, who have worked as long as I have in this field, they’ve usually been with several different agencies.”

What’s even more unusual is that Colleen isn’t Jewish. She is the first non-Jewish CEO the agency has had in its 105-year history. However, she embraces the guiding principle of serving the entire community in the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam (to repair and improve the world).

Most recently this led Colleen to think about how JFCS could help bring local attention to the animosity and bias facing the Jewish, Black, and LGBTQ+ communities. The agency initiated the “Resisting Hate, Repairing the World” panel in December 2022 – a community conversation about the work being done to address hate through education, mutual respect, and truth. The feedback was so positive, additional panels are being planned for 2023.

“We’re here to educate and create a safe nonpolitical space for those types of conversations.”

JFCS also continues its advocacy for mental health counseling. Colleen has observed a worsening mental health crisis throughout her career and is committed to having the agency play an active role in being part of the solution. JFCS is committed to making counseling available to those who need it and maintains a full counseling department.

While much of Colleen’s can-do attitude is simply who she is, she credits many mentors along the way, as well as the JFCS leadership that came before her.

“Iris Young was the CEO before me and hired me. Her take was you have to be the first out of the gate. You can’t be afraid to take chances and really put yourself out there.”

Colleen says she is also thankful for the support from her staff and current and past board presidents and members, all of whom she says have been critical to her success.

The combination of hard-earned experience, a spirited personality, and the guidance of other community leaders has empowered Colleen to boldly spark change – something she has done exceedingly well, and with powerful results, for the past 25 years.