Bridget Jackson, Sr. Public Affairs and Communications Advisor
| 9/13/2018 2:51:24 PM
Rodriguez (right) with Grovetta Gardineer, chair of the NeighborWorks America board
Last month, Marietta Rodriguez became CEO at NeighborWorks America, thus beginning a new chapter in a 20-year career in affordable housing and community development.
Rodriguez, the organization’s ninth chief executive and the third woman to serve in the role, most recently was the interim senior vice president for NeighborWorks America’s National Initiatives Division. She started in 1998 as a field service officer.
Among her achievements are the management of a down-payment assistance program, which channeled more than $300 million to more than 17,800 new homebuyers, and the positioning of NeighborWorks America as a leader in housing solutions as the country navigated through the foreclosure crisis.
Rodriguez has served in various roles within the organization, giving her the institutional knowledge and industry insights needed to assure that NeighborWorks America remains a go-to source in the industry as we close our 40th-anniversary year and head into the next era of our growth.
Rodriguez recently shared some of her top priorities for NeighborWorks America and identified specific areas in which she is eager to “hit the ground running.”
The first 90 days: listening, learning and leveraging
Her first 90 days continues with a "listening tour" designed to augment Rodriguez’ knowledge and understanding of the needs of NeighborWorks’ headquarters team and regional staff, as well as those of our network, strategic partners and board agency members.
"I want to know what is top of mind for people, what things people are excited about, what obstacles the teams currently face, and where they see opportunities to thrive together," she said. “I’m also working at establishing a strong working relationship with the board of directors and other critical stakeholders – namely, our funders and people on Capitol Hill.”
Another priority for early fiscal year 2019 is to fill several senior-leader vacancies that have been held open pending her selection.
“It is my hope that all members of our staff, regardless of their positions within the organization, understand how their roles are vital to our mission,” she explained. “I truly believe our people are dedicated to NeighborWorks’ values, and that is a very positive place from which to go forward.”
It takes a network
Rodriguez appreciates and recognizes the value of the NeighborWorks network – especially since she was once a first-time homebuyer helped by one of our network members, Homewise (Santa Fe, New Mexico).
In 1992, while working for the Girl Scouts of America’s Sangre de Cristo Council, Rodriguez was introduced to the NHS of Santa Fe (later re-branded as Homewise), CEO Mike Loftin made it a habit to reach out to Santa Fe’s churches, and through those contacts he met Deacon Facundo Rodriguez. According to Loftin, Deacon Rodriguez was eager for his daughter, Marietta, to learn about homeownership, since at the time, she was a young adult still living at home.
That interaction led to Rodriguez’ successful completion of the program, facilitating her first home purchase– a townhouse in Santa Fe, which she still owns today. That positive experience paved the way for her entry into the community development field, first as one of the youngest board members at Homewise and later, as its first homebuyer-education counselor.
That humble beginning served her well.
“The experience of working on the ground with a local organization has been invaluable to me,” she said. “I often encourage others looking for a career in community development or public policy to start with a local organization. I think one needs to understand how programs and policies interact at the community level. In my role with NeigborWorks’ National Initiatives Division, it was my responsibility to ensure we fully understood how new programs or services would affect the communities we served before we rolled them out. After all, what makes sense to a person sitting at a desk in Washington, D.C., may not make sense to an organization on Main Street.”
Looking ahead to the next 40 years
Rodriguez is confident that NeighborWorks America will remain at the forefront of affordable housing and the broader community development field as we enter our 41st year of service.
“I’ve been here for roughly half of NeighborWorks America’s history, and I’ve consistently observed that, collectively, our organization and more than 240 network members have never backed down from a challenge,” she said. “As we enter the next phase of NeighborWorks America’s development, I’m encouraged to see this organization become even more adaptive to change, especially in the use of new technologies to reach potential clients and customers and in our ability to develop revenue streams outside of traditional philanthropic and government funding sources so we can finance the pursuit of our mission.”
The continued evolution of NeighborWorks America under Rodriguez’ leadership also will bring a more intentional focus on how closely affordable community development should be tied to the promotion of diversity and inclusion.
“The eventual creation of NeighborWorks America was inspired by a woman of color [Dorothy Mae Richardson] who fought to ensure investment in her neighborhood. I am acutely aware that I now lead this organization not only as a person who ‘grew up’ in the NeighborWorks network, but also as a woman of color. Both roles carry a tremendous amount of responsibility,“ she said. “We need to use NeighborWorks’ ongoing commitment to its Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiative to improve our understanding of each other and improve how we communicate. My own leadership opportunities have given me the latitude to grow, and we need to foster the same access to leadership among the broader community of color, as well as for voices that represent other underserved populations.”