Good Samaritan Spotlight – Guadalupe “Lupita” Rodriguez, Director of Outreach in Imperial County
By Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor
(All photos without masks were taken prior to COVID-19)
Good Samaritan Spotlight – Lupita Rodriguez
Her calling has always been in the Imperial Valley. It’s where she was born and raised. Where she graduated from college. Where she established her career, built relationships in the community, helped countless people in need—and chose to keep going rather than retire.
For Guadalupe “Lupita” Rodriguez, Catholic Charities’ Director of Outreach in Imperial County, home isn’t just where the heart is; it’s also where the need is. The county faces high unemployment, homelessness, and food insecurity, all of which are exacerbated by the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. But underneath the hardship, Lupita finds human connection and, through Catholic Charities’ programs and services, solutions to some of the most difficult and dire circumstances residents here face.
As a kid growing up in Calexico, Lupita noticed how active her parents were in the community. Her family’s second nature of helping others led her to pursue an education to become an attorney in the Valley, with a vision of fighting injustices at the grassroots level. While attending college, she discovered a new passion—photojournalism—that would eventually lead her to the same purpose. Lupita earned her Associate of Arts in Photography from Imperial Valley College and her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from University of Phoenix, going on to land a job as a staff photographer for the Imperial Valley Press.
Chief Photographer in the Navy
After 2 years working at the Imperial Valley Press, Lupita accepted a job as a civilian photographer with the U.S. Department of Defense at Naval Air Facility (NAF) El Centro. She served as Chief Photographer for 15 years, documenting accidents for defense contractors and holding top-secret clearance. She photographed gruesome scenes that no civilian should ever see, one of which, she recalled, left her unable to stomach most foods for over a month.
Coming Back to Calexico
When NAF El Centro closed its photography department, Lupita took time to reflect on all that she had encountered. She moved to San Diego briefly before receiving a call to join the Calexico Chronicle as Managing Editor. The position not only brought her back to her roots both personally and professionally, but also deepened her desire to serve the community. It was because of that job that she was able to help start a school newsletter through a local nonprofit Imperial Valley program.
Lupita found her project with a local nonprofit to be so fulfilling that she decided to apply as a case manager in one of its Welfare to Work programs serving single mothers. Lupita spent 15 years working here, including as a program manager, while also teaching photography to high school students after work. “The more I got involved, the more I wanted to help people,” she said.
Second Calling at Catholic Charities
In 2013, Lupita reached retirement. But soon after retiring from her previous job, she realized how connected to and invested in the community she had become. Her life purpose became her life mission when she applied for and accepted an open position at Catholic Charities’ House of Hope women’s shelter in El Centro. “It’s all the work I know and love,” she said.
Eight years later in 2021, Lupita continues to oversee operations at House of Hope, now as Director of Outreach for several of Catholic Charities’ programs throughout the county, including the senior nutrition program and meal delivery service.
Lupita recently received a message from a woman who wanted to make a donation to House of Hope.
“Please thank [Lupita] and tell her I’m doing okay now,” the woman said. “I have a house and a job. I remember her words and advice that helped me through the hard times. And I remember Catholic Charities for helping me turn my life around.”
Separately, a former client calls Lupita almost daily: “I went to church. I went to counseling. I just want you to know I’m doing well.” He, too, wants to pay it forward, by donating to Catholic Charities and giving his time as a volunteer.
Experience, empathy, and compassion help Lupita truly connect with participants and determine the best path forward. Even while consistently witnessing their struggles, Lupita sees hope in the Valley community and heart in Catholic Charities. She knows there is much work to be done—to help the homeless, feed the hungry, support families, expand programs, fund facilities, and create opportunities.
“The need in our community is heart wrenching,” Lupita said. “Many people don’t have family support. They have nowhere to go and no one to call. When they come to Catholic Charities, they realize that someone does care for them, does hear them, and will help them. I am not ready to retire from that.”
To learn more about Catholic Charities’ work in the Imperial Valley, read our previous stories:
Emergency Food Distribution Plus (EFDN+) Pandemic Response
Shelter and Services for Migrant Farm Workers