MANATEE — Helping low-income families reach their dream of first-time home ownership is Rosa Rodriguez’s job and her life’s mission.

But helping them to see their own worth as God’s children is her ministry.

Rodriguez is a long-time volunteer with Catholic Charities of Manatee County, where she teaches a first-time homebuyers class with her partner, Lucy Sanchez Cruz.

She is also assistant vice president and senior loan officer at the Regions Bank, 8455 Tuttle Avenue, near University Parkway.

Her success in securing first-time home loans for low-income families has been prolific.

In 2009, she helped 120 low-income families get home loans through her bank.

“Rosa cares about people and cares about their dreams,” said her husband, Omar Rodriguez, who is in construction.

Rosa Rodriguez talks about lessons she learned as a child growing up in Puerto Rico. She was one of two children of a stay-at-home mom and a Vietnam war veteran.

Her father died in 1977, when she was 9, and his death threw the family into turmoil.

“We were poor,” Rodriguez said. “My brother Jose and I picked coffee beans and we sold bags of coffee by the side of the road.”

What helped keep the family together was the Catholic church they attended, Parroguia la Merced.

Rodriguez believes it was a miracle that got her to where she is today.

Her uncle, Tony Sanchez, was a chef in Sarasota. Rosa and Jose spent every summer in Sarasota, learning to speak English.

“My mother got us excited about Florida telling us about the mouse at Disney World, but what she really wanted was for us to become bilingual,” Rodriguez said.

Rosa’s ability to speak Spanish and English helped her get a job with the former Barnett Bank and she has quickly risen upward in her field.

“Is God real? Yes, absolutely,” Rodriguez said. “I believe if I have knowledge and blessings, I have to pass it on.”

The lesson that Rodriguez believes is her ministry is to teach everyone she meets that they have great value.

She wants her customers to not think less of themselves because perhaps they don’t have high incomes.

“I am a fighter for my people,” Rodriguez said.

“Minorities often don’t get treated like royalty. But when they are with me, they will be treated like royalty.”

“Many of my customers are shy,” Rodriguez added.

“They will walk in a house they can afford, look around once and say, ‘OK. we’ll buy it.’ I tell them, ‘No, you must open the cabinets, try out the fau- cets, check the roof, see what it needs. Just because it looks pretty doesn’t mean it is pretty on the inside. Houses can be like people.’”

Sanchez Cruz says Rodriguez excels at what she does. She is “just the best,” she said.

Rodriguez’s next Spanish-language first-time homebuyers class is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. July 24 at the Catholic Charities offices at 1219 16th St. W., Bradenton.

For more information, call 714-7829, ext. 302.