Virgilio Rosario’s resume isn’t exactly associated with the type of person you might see winning an award for community service work. That’s because his resume includes a 10-year stint in prison for things he’s not very proud of.  But indeed, earlier this month, Rosario was awarded the prestigious Andrus Award for Community Service by AARP CT.

At the award ceremony at the Boca Oyster Bar in Bridgeport, presenter after presenter from the judge who ruled on his case to his brother Christopher, who is now a state representative, all spoke highly of the former convict. They also shared his story of redemption. Rosario came to the United States from Puerto Rico in 1975 with his dad. Unfortunately, when Virgilio was 14 and Christopher was 8, their father tragically passed away. Virgilio unfortunately turned to the streets and associated with gang members and their criminal lifestyle. His actions would land him in prison.

While he never let his actions impact the lives of his siblings Virgilio himself still got in trouble while incarcerated. One day, the warden decided to give him something productive to do: trim the grass in the fields. Some of the corrections officers showed him how to use the equipment. As Rosario became comfortable with this work, he started to ask how he could use his newfound skills and create a business.

The landscaping skills he learned in prison would be instrumentally helpful in securing work after he was released. However, who would take the chance on a former inmate? Not many. Except for Bobby Christoph Jr., President of RCI Group, and the developer of Steelpointe Harbor just blocks away from where Virgilio lived and used to get into trouble.

Rosario met Christoph at a yacht show hosted at Steelpointe Harbor in 2021, just two days after Rosario was released from prison. “There was a gentleman who I thought was just part of the staff, and I just got to talking to him.” Rosario thought it was amazing to see yachts and an amazing restaurant at Steelpointe, which had been constructed while he was incarcerated. It was only later that Rosario realized the gentleman he spoke to was the developer.

Rosario started gaining connections for his business by offering to do work for free, such as cleaning the streets of Bridgeport. He was able to start his business and had the opportunity to talk to Bobby Christoph again, this time with a business proposition. “He started his business, came in, we met, and the rest is history.” Christoph said. “He’s taken over a lot of different projects with us and we’re looking forward to growing together.”

Now the bright and smiling Rosario is a common face at Steelpointe Harbor working hard to ensure the landscaping is in pristine condition. Rosario credits Christoph as one of the people who believed in him and gave him a chance to challenge the stereotypes faced by the formerly incarcerated. “What that does is it makes you think, ‘wow, I can do this.’”

Besides working at Steelpointe Harbor, Rosario has other aspirations within the Bridgeport community. He started a hot dog cart business with his wife called Park City Dogs and is planning to have a permanent storefront in Bridgeport. He hopes to hire youth in the area to teach them about running their own business by giving them the opportunity to rent carts from him, especially to kids who are in situations like him when he was young “who normally wouldn’t have that opportunity.”  

In addition to his business endeavors, Rosario has been able to help people in the city, especially in helping other formerly incarcerated people like him have a successful return into society. Members of the community trust him and reach out to him for help, especially because of his intimate understanding of what incarceration looks like. Rosario helps coordinate and connect people to organizations that offer more help when the case requires it.

At the award ceremony, Christoph said, “We’re very proud of him, what he’s done, what he’s accomplished and all the good things he’s doing for the community.”