On a recent December morning, Rick DiGiorgio, housing counselor manager at Step Up Suncoast, stopped what he was doing at his desk to answer a call.
“Good morning, Mr. Rick,” a woman said cheerfully, greeting him through the phone and inquiring about her certificate of completion for a recent first-time homebuyer course.
DiGiorgio let her know it was already in the mail, heading her way.
“When I say I’m going to do something, I do it,” he assured her good-naturedly.
The two then discussed assistance for her search for a second job.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Rick!” she said before hanging up.
Minutes later, before DiGiorgio could resume his thoughts, the phone rang again.
“Hi, sir,” a man began, “I’m calling to see if you have any help with rentals?”
After DiGiorgio described how to make an appointment with an agency counselor regarding rent assistance – one of a ballooning number of cases amid skyrocketing rents – the man was effusive with gratitude.
“Thank you, sir. God bless you,” he said before ending the call.
“This is daily what I’m getting,” DiGiorgio said, at last turning away from the phone.
For twenty-four years DiGiorgio has juggled many duties as a HUD-certified counselor at Step Up Suncoast.
One of them has included processing applications for Season of Sharing – assisting countless families and individuals in crisis with rent, mortgage payments, utility bills, child care and transportation aid.
But as 2021 was coming to a close, DiGiorgio, 70, was planning to hang up his hat and retire.
The same is true for another long-term case manager and critical source of support for thousands of families through the years – Sister Ann DeNicolo, director of prevention support services in Arcadia for the Diocese of Venice’s Catholic Charities program. DeNicolo also retired at the end of 2021 – following 21 years at the post.
The simultaneous departure of two highly regarded advocates for area families – occurring amid a pandemic and a worsening crisis of affordable housing – puts a spotlight on a key component of Season of Sharing: the tireless work of caseworkers and managers.