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DOWNEY – It is no secret that the issues plaguing America’s war veterans are extensive: homelessness, unemployment, inadequate medical care, insufficient mental health services. The list goes on.
Despite widespread media attention, it’s become increasingly clear that the task of providing America’s heroes with the resources they need is falling to independently-operated non-profit organizations who can cut through the bureaucratic red tape that often forces veterans to wait weeks or even months for basic services.
One such group is the Living Tree Foundation, founded by Downey residents Rick and Lupe Rodriguez.
The Rodriguez’s own and operate RMI International, a global security firm. The company provides security of all scopes and sizes, from guarding heads of state and corporate executives to patrolling small parking garages. (RMI provides the uniformed security officers that patrol downtown Downey and the Rio Hondo Event Center on bicycles.)
According to their own numbers, RMI hired 170 U.S. veterans last year, more than the much-larger Metropolitan Transit Authority’s 153 hires.
RMI wasn’t always so invested in offering jobs to vets. But when the Rodriguez’s oldest son, Rick Jr., joined the Army at age 17 and was deployed to Iraq, the family got a first-hand look at the issues faced by returning troops.
“I was able to see what they needed,” said Rick Rodriguez, who has a second son who also served in the Army. “They came home from Iraq and while my son was able to immediately start working for me, he tells me, ‘Dad, I have 47 buddies who need jobs too.’”
Often times, giving them jobs wasn’t enough. Securing a California guard license can cost up to $2500, and the Rodriguez’s would often cover the costs. On more than one occasion a veteran was hours away from eviction before Rick and Lupe stepped in to help.
The Rodriguez’s ask for little in return: that the person who was helped one day return the favor to another person in need.
RMI International has flourished, and today brings in $40 million in annual revenue. The result has been that Rick and Lupe have been “incredibly blessed by God,” and they have dedicated an increasing amount of money to helping veterans. On the advice of their attorney, last year they founded their own non-profit, the Living Tree Foundation.
“Never before has the need been greater to assist those who are in need,” reads a statement on the foundation’s website. “You might be a single mom who is trying to further your education in order to guarantee a better paying job to support your children. You might be a homeless person or perhaps you are part of a family that needs shelter and clothing. You might be [a] combat veteran who is an amputee that can benefit from a therapy dog but cannot afford it.”
One of the Living Tree Foundation’s programs is Purple Heart Baseball, which allows paraplegic veterans to play a three-inning game on a professional baseball field. This year’s game took place May 18 at Angel Stadium.
The foundation helps purchase service dogs for local vets, sponsors a prison ministry, supports a women’s shelter, and offers financial support for Warrior Built, a vocational therapy program that introduces vets to a possible career in mechanics and fabrication.
“What we do is cut through the government’s red tape,” said Rick. “Veterans are so used to being in line for everything, from food to medicine. A lot of times they won’t complain about waiting. We want to change that environment, just a little bit.”
In a new series titled “Coming Home: A Veteran’s Story”, this newspaper will profile some of the local veterans assisted by the Living Tree Foundation and other non-profit groups. Our goal is to tell the stories of Downey’s own veterans, good and bad, old and young.
If you are interested in telling your story, contact Julie Garcia at (562) 884-8683 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Eric Pierce at email@example.com or (562) 904-3668.
Published: June 26, 2014 – Volume 13 – Issue 11