From homeless to his own boss: Milford man credits Beth-El Center for success

MILFORD — Rodney Rollins had only 28 cents when he received a $128 check from Beth-El Center.

It was this charitable act, Rollins says, that began his journey from homeless to being his own boss. Rollins is now owner and operator of New England Desperado, LLP, a trucking company worth some $1 million.

“It really needs to be said,” Rollins said, “the people of the town of Milford actually ended up being nicer to me than my own family. And that’s something.”

Rollins praised Beth-El Center, a nonprofit whose stated mission it is to “extend dignity and respect to all individuals and families while connecting them to housing, food and services within their communities.”

Beth-El Center has two programs — a 34-bed homeless shelter and a food service program

Also as a way to give back to the city that he says he owes so much, Rollins said he does his best to spend his money with Milford businesses.

“It’s the least I can do,” said Rollins, who recently joined the Beth-El Center’s board of directors. “Whenever I’m making any type of decision to purchase anything, my first thought is, can I buy this here in Milford.”

Rollins said his drop to the depths of homelessness was one he never conceived of while growing up. He says he was lucky in his youth, as he enjoyed a good education under the watchful eye of his mother, a school teacher.

His family was well off, but an altercation over money escalated and Rollins found himself convicted of assault and weapons charges. Though he received probation, it altered his life.

“That got me fired from my job and of course being fired, with no income, the spiral started downward,” he said. “I lost where I was living. I kept the presence of mind to pay off all my creditors with the money I had left as quickly as I could so I didn’t damage my credit history. It wasn’t long after, I found myself pretty much living on the street.”

Still, he said things could have been worse.

“I had my health, and I had a great education from Fordham University,” he said.

To add to his situation, in September of 2018, Rollins said he was mugged in New York and that only left him with 28 cents to his name. The next day, on Oct. 1, Rollins made a call to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) in Connecticut and explained to them his present situation.

“I was a resident and had previously lived in Westport, that’s why I called the VA in Connecticut,” he said. “They told me to go to the Metro North Train station and tell the conductor I was a veteran and that the VA in Connecticut would refund the money if they would put me on a train.”

He took the train as the VA told him and got off at Greenwich, and when he got off the train, there was someone from the West Haven VA Center who was waiting for him to pick him up.

“She drove me up to the Beth-El Center and introduced me to them, and they immediately took me in,” he said. “I don’t believe this organization is a charity. In my opinion, it is an investment in the human capital of the State of Connecticut.”

During this time, Rollins said his driver’s license was expired because he didn’t have the money to pay the fees.

“Beth-El Center wrote me a check for $128, and they made it out to the DMV,” he said. “I took it over to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Norwalk and paid them what I owed them. I now had a driver’s license.”

After he got his license reinstated, the went to New England Tractor Trailer Training School in Bridgeport and told them he had previously held a Class A CDL driver’s license.

“I told them I don’t have thousands of dollars it costs for your school, but I do have some VA benefits that pay me, and I could pay them monthly,” said Rollins. “They took me into the president’s office, and I showed them my VA checks. The president told me they would tailor a program for me and just to make sure to make the monthly payments on time.”

That simple credit extension let him get started with the refresher training he needed, he said. Today, he has a Class A CDL with a triple trailer endorsement, which allows him to drive road trains on the flat, straight roads out west where such vehicles are legal.

Rollins’ first job, after receiving his Class A CDL was as a driver for UPS in New York because of the city’s Fair Chance Act. He was able to save some money and make a down payment to lease his first semi-trailer truck in November of 2019 with a trucking company.

In 2020, he went back to drive for UPS as a Christmas seasonal employee, and with the money he saved from working those jobs, he was able to start his company New England Desperado, LLP.

“Because I took the steps to pay off my creditors, I had good credit to get the lease on the semi-truck trailer,” he said.

In July of 2021, he ordered his first new truck, a 2023 T680 Kenworth. Rollins also obtained a 2023 refrigerated utility trailer, which he said he lucked into because the total cost of the equipment is $400,000, and he paid much less.

“The value of all of this. The company gross income before was around $8,000 a week, it’s now close to $12,000 and $14,000 a week, I’ll know after the first two weeks,” he said. “You do the math on that, it works to somewhere better than half a million dollars a year. Using the standard metric of two times annual income, New England Desperado as a going concern is worth $1 million.”

Rollins received a notification that on April 1 his brand new semi-trailer truck was being built in California. Two weeks later, he will have it ready to be used as he starts hauling freight cross country.

“The business that I’m in is refrigerated freight transportation. I have what is called an ice cream grade reefer, which allows me to transport freight at temperatures below minus 20 degrees, across the country,” he said. “What that means is I do a lot of pharmaceuticals and a lot of transporting of vaccines.”