But Santiago isn’t a staff member. He’s just a particularly good volunteer.
“I want to help the kids stay out of trouble, stay off the streets, to be somebody,” he says. “That’s why I volunteer.”
Several years ago, Santiago found himself with a very different type of challenge. A soldier in the U.S. Army stationed in Iraq, Santiago was seriously injured when a roadside bomb exploded near his convoy, killing several men in his unit. Santiago received a medical discharge after nearly 20 years of service.
Back home in New York City, Santiago had several surgeries to repair his injuries. As a retired soldier, he was grateful to be home with his family. And he also found himself with time to spare. So he started helping out at St. Brigid, a preK-8 Catholic school where his daughter was a student. This school year, she will be a high school senior and his son will be starting 4th grade.
Over the years, Santiago became the school’s go-to guy, handling everything from summer sports programs to, on occasion, opening the building on weekends if a repairman was called in. Because he lives close by, he was first on the scene after Hurricane Sandy in late 2012 and used a bucket to bail out water by hand.
Principal Donna Vincent says Santiago is a tremendous help and a good role model for the kids. “I was a new principal in 2008,” she says. “I was introduced to him, and the knowledge he had about the building and the everyday running of the school was such a help. From that day, straight through today, this man has been absolutely an invaluable volunteer.”