Keishla Rodriguez, second from left, poses with her children and grandson. From left to right, they are: Leanaly Encarnacion holding Jadiel Encarnacion; Karina Romero; Keishla Romero; Shineyla Romero; and Jacob Encarnacion.

Ten years ago, Keishla Rodriguez stood outside Hartford Hospital with her five children, looking at the Hartford HealthCare logo with tears in her eyes.

She had recently escaped an abusive relationship and, turning to her children, she says with foresight,“I’m going to work there.” At the time she didn’t know much about HHC, but she saw a hospital and that was enough

“Wherever I can connect with someone and let them know it’s going to be okay,” she says. “That’s where I want to be.”

Twelve when she moved with her mother and siblings from Puerto Rico to Springfield, Mass., Rodriguez was beset with problems growing up, from a language barrier and bullying to sexual violence and emotional trauma.

“I lost sight of who Keishla was,” she recalls. When she later found herself homeless aftera physically and verbally abusive relationship, she gathered the strength to seek a better life in Hartford, where an uncle took her in. Here, Rodriguez found help from various community support programs, was recertified as a medical administrative assistant and took a course to become a Spanish medical interpreter.

After a few months, she got a studio apartment and then earned an associate’s degree in social services. She also took “tons of courses that the state offered” through CT Works to advance her professional qualifications, and landed a temporary position at Hartford Hospital. Two years later, she started at the Ayer Neuroscience Institute and, in 2019, transferred to the surgical weight loss program where she is a patient navigator.

Rodriguez is proud of the person she has become — someone who loves her job because she gives others hope, pursues a bachelor’s degree in human services and is buying a house.

“I broke a lot of layers I created when I connected with the right people and the right friends,” she says of her time at HHC, where a humanistic culture opened her eyes to new ways of learning. “My manager sees me and I see him. We can always learn from each other.”

Outside of her work responsibilities, Rodriguez is involved with Catholic Charities, serves as amember of the HHC Hispanic/Latinx Colleague Resource Group, and sponsors 13 teens who face bullying and problems with their parents. She credited her mother for inspiring her to overcome obstacles and become “the woman I am today.”

Looking at her five children — ages 26, 23, 22,16 and 12 — tears return to Rodriguez’s eyes, but not for the same reasons. These are tears of pride because they have adopted her generous qualities.

“That’s all I wanted — for them to be good kids,” she says. “We became the family I wanted.”