“Lancaster and Puerto Rico are the two places that I’ve always felt are home to me,” says Officer Randolph Hernandez, as he sits on a couch in his downtown Lancaster apartment. Born in the town of Caguas, Puerto Rico, Randolph smiles as he recounts fond memories of his childhood there—his pet goat following him around his yard, his parents and grandparents playing dominoes in the evenings.
When he was in first grade, however, Randolph’s family moved to the United States, living in several cities before settling in Pennsylvania. As he grew, he planned to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps by serving in the military. However, life seemed to have different plans. “When I was a junior in high school, I found out I was going to be a father,” he explains, “That was life throwing me a curve ball. My dad said, ‘Well, you’re now a man, go get a job.’”
As Randolph shares his story, it’s clear to see the connection between his Puerto Rican culture and his sense of responsibility. “If you came to Puerto Rico with me,” he insists, “by the time you left, you would be part of my family. They would take you in as their own, and that’s something that’s very near and dear to me.” Wanting to make his family proud and provide the best that he could for his new son, he dropped out of high school in order to get a full-time job. “I had to do what I had to do for my family, working 40, 50, 60 hours a week,” he says, “but I went back, and I got my GED two years later.”
Several years (and a second son) later, Randolph decided to fulfill his dreams of becoming a police officer by attending the Municipal Police Academy at Harrisburg Area Community College. He worked in Lancaster City as an officer before transferring to the York City School District, where his is now a school resource officer at Phineas Davis Elementary School. The job, it seems, is a perfect fit.
“The reason I got into policing was to reach kids at an early age… Most crimes happen between the ages of 16 and 24, so if I can get them before that, identify behavior problems that need to be addressed, a link that’s missing in their system… I want to get whatever help they need so they don’t become a statistic.” He continues, “There’s an old saying, ‘Some kids fall through the cracks.’ To me, that’s unacceptable. I can’t accept that; I won’t accept that. I work hard to make sure that no kids get through the cracks, at least on my watch.”
Randolph’s mission extends beyond creating a safe and nurturing school environment for the children he encounters every day; he also strives to create safe communities around them. “I try to be as active as I can in non-profit organizations that deal with adolescents,” he explains. To that end, he has served on the board of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children in Lancaster County), and he volunteers with at-risk youth at The Mix at Arbor Place.
His own childhood in Puerto Rico is never far from his mind, and in addition to working with city youth, Randolph dedicates much of his free time to creating a thriving, connected Latino community in Lancaster. “I love my island, I love my culture, and I’m very fortunate and blessed that I was born where I was born. Puerto Rico has such a rich diversity… and it’s reflected in our music, our food, our clothing, and the way we correspond with each other. It’s a beautiful thing,” he beams.
When recent storms and devastation hit his home island, Randolph felt a call to help: “I have a lot of family there, and it was really hard for me to know that there were so many people in need, and they weren’t getting the help they needed.” He rallied his hometown of Lancaster to raise money for his home island, organizing community fundraisers that amassed over $15,000 to aid Puerto Rico: “Here in Lancaster City, that’s one thing we know how to do well— collaborate and come together for people in need, especially because we have such a large population of Puerto Ricans and Latinos. But even if the money weren’t for Puerto Rico, Lancaster would do it. We’re so fortunate for that.”
In addition to raising money, Randolph and his family spent their vacation travelling to Caguas, assisting with recovery efforts. He also has more plans in the works to continue helping the island and culture that has shaped his life. “It’s just a connection that you have to your birthplace,” he says, “you want to make sure it’s okay. You want to do your part to give back.”