Sunday profile: Auto body shop owner holds true to his roots
Milton Rodas of MidValley Auto Body hasn’t had an easy journey to success, but he’s working hard to ease the path for others.
“When I opened this shop, my first goal was always to remember who I was and where I came from,” he said. “I had to go back and give back.”
Rodas grew up with his grandparents on a small farm in the poor, rural community of La Blanca, Guatemala. It’s an area where many houses barely have walls and few children have shoes. A typical day involved getting up at 4:30 in the morning to study and pray, working on the farm until it was time for school — unless a rain canceled class — and more hours in the fields before doing homework by candlelight.
Even so, he learned the value of charity early when his family would share food with those who were even more needy.
“Food wasn’t an issue because we had crops, but money was always a problem,” he said. “We had almost nothing and we still gave. That solid foundation I grew up with made me the person I am today.”
While many of his peers were working by the time they were teenagers, Rodas decided to complete his education and enrolled in military school.
“I didn’t want to see my family always suffering,” he said.
When he graduated, his mother invited him to come join her in California. That didn’t last long before he decided to move to Carbondale, where his uncle lived.
“I felt that San Diego wasn’t for me,” he said. “Colorado was my way out.”
His first job was at the Glenwood Hot Springs, but he soon switched to washing cars at a body shop. He later moved up to detail and painter’s helper before following his general manager to another shop in Carbondale where he worked for almost 10 years.
“I really grew up in this industry,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process of education.”
In the meantime, he studied English at Colorado Mountain College and met his wife, Briseyda. The couple now have three children ages 19, 16 and 12. The family relocated to Rifle but Milton continued to work in Carbondale until his race became an issue.
“I didn’t have the right color for being the manager,” he said. “I got to the point where I didn’t want anything to do with the industry for a while.”
Instead, he founded the nonprofit Hispanic Alliance Colorado (HAC), which initially supported basketball and soccer programs for kids. When two of his friends were fired from body work as well, however, one suggested a shop of his own. It was 2014 — not the ideal time to start a business.
“The economy wasn’t really there,” he said. “I went to several banks and everybody turned me away.”
He eventually got support from a private couple, and wasted no time in giving back.
The same year, he lead his first service trip back to Guatemala to build two houses in his hometown with HAC and Rifle’s Seventh Day Adventists. The next year, they returned to build an eight-classroom, Christian-based school that serves all grades. It costs $250 to attend, but many students are on full scholarship.
“They can have an education and hopefully have a better life,” Rodas said.
Though there’s now electricity and internet in nearby villages, life hasn’t changed much in La Blanca. Briseyda, who is originally from the city of Culiacán, Mexico, was shocked by the poverty there, as have others who joined the trips.
“This country has so much to offer, and I think we can help show how different it is elsewhere. I really appreciate what I have today, because nothing was given to us,” Rodas said. “A lot of people stay in the tourist areas. You need to go out to my hometown. It’s a tough world, and you have to be there to really feel that.”
This year, they did a mission in Argentina.
“I don’t want to help just my own community,” he said. “I think the needs are everywhere in the world.”
Next year, though, they expect to return to Guatemala, where aid is less expensive. It may be summer or Christmas vacation if enough kids are willing to volunteer. Meanwhile, MidValley Auto Body will go on, with whatever they can spare going toward future projects.
“The community is a piece of gold. I’ve never been anywhere that supports local business so much,” Rodas said. “I have to make a living, but my goal is not to get rich, it’s to help whenever I can.”
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