Featured on the Bronx Chronicle.
This week’s featured Veteran is Specialist Jose Javier Castro of the New York State Guard (NYSG). Jose was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in the Bronx. He is currently a Case Manager at the New York City (NYC) Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Jose came to this country for better opportunities but has dedicated his life by giving back more than he has taken.
Jose describes his life as the typical “immigrant story”. He came to this country at the age of ten with his mother and four brothers in 2003. They faced many of the same hardships as immigrants do, such as learning English and achieving citizenship. Once the pieces came together, Jose began to thrive within the educational system.
While in high school Jose joined the Ranger Corp Cadet Corps and strived to join the Armed Forces. He naturally excelled and after high school he was nominated to West Point but was put on the waiting list. Not wanting to wait, he applied and was accepted to the Reserve Officers’ Training Course at the Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. After a year of strenuous training, Jose suspended his studies due to a treatable medical condition.
Unsure of what to do next, Jose crossed paths with former candidate for the 17 Bronx Council District and NYSG Sergeant First Class John Perez. Perez would tell him about the NYSG and within a few months, Jose graduated from basic training to become a Decontamination Specialist.
Jose returned home and began school at Hostos Community College but for his junior year he decided to transfer to John Jay College (JJC) of Criminal Justice. Their motto, “Education for Justice” has been Jose’s focal point since then. He regrets joining JJC so late because he found the push he needed and what would become his passion to help those in need.
You see,on his way to classes Jose would pass homeless Veterans panhandling and sleeping in shanties. This sight was very disheartening to Jose. He knows that many of them were Vietnam Veterans who didn’t have adequate services on their return home. The programs back then were incapable of fulfilling the needs of the Veterans after their service but, over the years with overwhelming public pressure on governmental officials, there has been some progress even though it is still lacking.
Jose also believes there is a stigma on the homeless Veteran community. “We as a society hold Veterans to a high standard in bravery and strength but once they need or seek assistance we turn on them with a sense that they are flawed, weakened, and even possibly disreputable.” Jose took this dilemma as an opportunity to build awareness and take action. With JJC’s Office of Community Outreach, he would use its influence and resources.
The Community Service Council is operated and composed of students running events throughout the school year. The council is made up of 12 members, who are each given the opportunity to address a community issue that is a concern to them. When it was Jose’s turn, he planned Veteran themed engagements for an entire week. This would cause some distress because of the amount of activities plus his bold stance on the homeless community.
Everyday was a different event in which he lead a group of students in organizing a clothing drive, encouraging students to write to their local Council Members, and making sandwiches to hand out to the homeless. The last two days were comprised of a 24-hour campout inside the college, which concluded in a panel regarding Veteran homelessness and resources available for them. The panel included a former homeless Veteran student, local case manager, as well as state and non-profit representatives.
While in college, he completed various internships at The Bronx District Attorney’s Office, NYC Police Department, NYC Council, and U.S. Department of State. He has since graduated in May 2015 with a bachelor’s in International Criminal Justice. With him achieving that portion of his academic life, he took a spiritual journey with the De La Salle Christian Brothers in which he tutored the youth.
Recently he has decided to step back from the Brothers to continue his strong pursuit of community service. Currently, Jose is working with the NYC DHS and continues with the NYS Guard in which he is up for a promotion to Sergeant. He has also been awarded the prestigious NYC Coro Fellowship, which tends to aspire the next generation of change makers.
Remarkably the students at JJC decided to repeat Jose’s homeless campout model. This time the event focused on all members of the homeless community. Jose was invited as an honored guest and participant.
With all of the accomplishments that Jose has achieved thus far, there is no doubt that he is someone to watch for in the future. But if you ask him about his achievements, he would humbly say, “I have a lot more to learn and do.”
If you or anyone is homeless or about to become, please contact 311 and inform them of your current situation. NYC has a tremendous amount of resources for both the Veteran and the general population.
Devil Dog USA Incorporated
Gonzalo Duran is CEO of Devil Dog USA Incorporated, a non-profit in the Bronx that focuses on veterans. Duran is a Veteran Columnist for The Bronx Chronicle.