Going the Distance for Covenant House
Manolo Rodriguez, on staff at Covenant House's Guatemala site for 26 years, was among 14 Home Team runners—and 21,965 finishers—in this years NYC half-marathon.
It wasn’t easy for Manolo Rodríguez to rise at 4:30 a.m. on a chilly March morning in Brooklyn. He had barely had time to rest from the long flight from his native Guatemala—where the temperature was a sweet and toasty 80 degrees—to New York City—where, at 4:30 a.m., the impertinent mercury lumbered in the 30s.
But rise he did, and gladly. Manolo, who is the finance director for La Alianza, as Covenant House is known in Guatemala, had come to New York City for the sole purpose of running the annual half-marathon—the United Airlines NYC Half—and raise funds and awareness for La Alianza and the Covenant House movement.
“I was so motivated to come and represent Covenant House and all the children we care for,” Manolo said after the race. “I wanted to bring that message of hope—the same message we share with the children at La Alianza—the message of truth, love, and hope.”
Donning a black wool hat, several layers under a purple NYC Half t-shirt, and a pair of snow gloves, he made his way to the starting line. Before taking a step, though, he added one more layer: a banner that wrapped around his shoulders and bore the logos of Covenant House and La Alianza, and the flag of Guatemala.
“Many people along the route recognized the Covenant House logo,” Manolo said. “They clapped and shouted to me, ‘Go, Covenant House!’ Others recognized the flag of Guatemala and called out to me, ‘Vamos, Guatemala!’ It was very moving.”
Manolo was one of 14 runners for the Covenant House Home Team—supporters who participate in any of various races in the New York City area to raise funds to support Covenant House’s mission to accompany children and youth from homelessness to independent and abundant living.
Home Team was founded in 2009, from the vision of a single volunteer, Bill Cannon. Bill and his family worked with Covenant House staff and board members to coach 25 runners in the 2009 ING New York City Marathon.
Since then, more than 850 unique runners, including Covenant House youth and staff, have run with Home Team and raised more than $1.7 million in support of our mission, which today spans 31 cities in six countries.
This year, a record 21,965 runners completed the United Airlines NYC Half. The 14 Home Team runners among them added more than $44,000 to the total raised for Covenant House’s mission.
“It was incredible how people responded to my fundraising page,” Manolo said, adding special gratitude for the Covenant House Peer-to-Peer team who helped him set it up and launch it. “I was so moved, as people I didn’t even know supported me, showed confidence in me, and gave what they could to our cause. It was really gratifying to see how the mercury in my fundraising thermometer was so cold at the beginning and then, suddenly, went up and up, filling the thermometer until it showed I had reached—and then surpassed—the goal!”
There was moral support, too, he said. Manolo’s wife made the trip with him to New York and cheered him on from the sidelines. His son and daughter, both of whom were working and unable to come, sent Manolo messages of support and encouragement.
In preparation for the race, his son helped him navigate the technology related to his fundraising page, and his daughter, who works for the airline that carried Manolo and his wife to the U.S., arranged for the crew to deliver a message of encouragement to her runner-father before the airplane touched down in New York.
“So many people supported me in so many different ways. My daughter, for example, purchased the airline tickets for my wife and me, and a friend in Brooklyn gave us a place to stay,” Manolo said. “It is really incredibly gratifying.”
The Long Haul
Manolo has already gone a considerable distance with and for Covenant House. He first joined La Alianza’s forerunner in Guatemala, Casa Alianza, in 1991 as a volunteer. A year later he joined the staff, and worked his way up from warehouse assistant to finance director.
When La Alianza superseded Casa Alianza in 2010, Manolo continued as finance director, and has been a part of Covenant House for 26 years. Where Casa Alianza Guatemala cared for both young girls and boys, La Alianza provides care and shelter for girls only, who have been trafficked or abused. Some are as young as 9 years old, with the average age about 15.
Manolo says he remains with La Alianza because of a certain “mystique” or spiritual grounding he associates with the deep commitment to a cause such as this. “In Guatemala,” Manolo said, “the mistreatment, sexual abuse, and violence exercised against children are so severe. So, that grain of sand that one contributes to support these children, whether directly or indirectly, is a joy that stays with you and that no one can take from you. It’s hard to put into words.”
Examples serve better, he said. “The little girl who, at 11 years old, comes to us pregnant, or the one at 20, who wants to be independent, but has no one to help her get started in life. La Alianza works hard to care for these young survivors of sexual abuse and violence, who have no one else to turn to for support,” he explained.
“I continue with La Alianza because I’m committed to giving what I can so that these girls can have a better life—a better quality of life,” Manolo said. Running the half-marathon along chilly New York City streets was just the latest expression of that commitment.
Learn more about La Alianza, about the Covenant House movement, and about Home Team.