Building a Better World, One Home at a Time

People at art show

MITRE New Jersey (Eatontown) systems engineers Mike Rodriguez and Jason Caponigro are handy guys to know. The two can fix just about anything—and many Jersey shore homeowners have proof of that on their property. 

Before meeting at MITRE, the two volunteered individually from time to time with Habitat for Humanity. MITRE strengthened their Habitat connection after Hurricane Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City as a post-tropical cyclone in October 2012.

After the storm, Caponigro and Rodriguez were part of a MITRE site-team effort to help Habitat rebuild the local community. Long after that project wound down, the two are still very active with the construction organization and recently finished working on a house in Keansburg that was damaged as a result of the storm.

"A lot of the focus initially was post-Sandy support, redevelopment and rebuilding," Rodriguez said. "And a lot of it is still Sandy work."

Their Habitat projects call on a variety of skills that the two picked up on their own or with help from mentors: carpentry, painting, framing a house, installing staircases, hanging sheetrock, building decks, mixing cement, putting up siding and installing insulation.

In addition to the Habitat for Humanity of Monmouth building projects, Rodriguez and Caponigro also work on the organization's Brush with Kindness program. That effort makes home repairs for low-income homeowners—and it led them to some unexpected publicity.

Not long ago, the two had put doors on so many houses that they were known as "the door men" by the Habitat community. One day, while they were working on the back of a house, the owner came by, looked at them and said: "You guys are on my front lawn! You’re on the sign."

Caponigro said he walked out front and saw the Brush with Kindness "at work" sign, similar to a realtor sign, for the first time.

"We're driving home and we pass two more signs," Caponigro said, laughing, as he recalled joking with Rodriguez that they might get a billboard the following year.

Both Rodriguez and Caponigro have many reasons they continue to stick with the Habitat work, but quickly pick out a couple that top their lists.

"It just feels good," Caponigro said. "I enjoy helping people out and seeing the smile on their faces. The families come out, give you a big hug. They really appreciate that you're there."

"I was in the Army for 20 years and I’m all about giving back," Rodriguez said. "It's also part of MITRE's giving back. It lets the community know MITRE is out there."