SPSF NWA Celebrates Mother’s Day
As Mother’s Day nears, we celebrate the impact of mothers and the influence of mothers in society. Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas (SPSF NWA) is currently working to support 75 single moms as they pursue a degree or professional certification. All of the single moms in the scholarship program are disciplined, hard-working, determined individuals who are doing much more than parenting.
Patricia Rodriguez is an 8-time scholarship recipient at SPSF NWA. While a single mom, she earned an Associate of Arts from Northwest Arkansas Community College in 2014. She has a 15 year old son named Diego who attends Fayetteville Public Schools. For Patricia, this Mother’s Day may be the best one yet, as it coincides with another celebration; she will graduate from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Social Work!
Initially Patricia wanted to be a teacher. Patricia believes “schools serve as the foundation of a community. Teachers are great advocates for students in school and they would like to do more, but they have homework to grade and curriculum to plan. They just don’t have the time to give students the additional emotional support they sometimes need to reach their full potential. I hope to fill that gap by engaging with families and teachers to see what the needs are. Majoring in social work allows me the opportunity to advocate for students and their families, whether it’s in the community, with the school board, or even at our state’s capital in Little Rock.”
Several years ago a family member approached Patricia and asked her to volunteer for an event through OneCommunity called ArkanSalsa Fest. OneCommunity was founded in 2009 by Al “Papa Rap” Lopez and Dr. Diana Gonzales Worthen to “promote communities working together as One.” Patricia accepted the opportunity to serve at ArkanSalsa as the Volunteer Coordinator, even though she’d just gone back to school full time and was working part time for an eye doctor. “This would be a great way to get to know people in the community,” Patricia felt.
Volunteering at ArkanSalsa was a turning point for Patricia, and she wanted to do more. Her success as the Volunteer Coordinator led to a job as the Program Assistant for OneCommunity. Because she was the only employee, she met numerous people, including Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse, and she got to learn a number of new skills: fundraising, event planning, research, accounting, community outreach, and marketing.
The experience led her to discover other organizations that she loves and helped her to find a purpose between being a student and a parent. She says “being a parent is most important, and I want my son to not only see me as a mom but a leader.” She shared “one time my son, Diego, and I were volunteering at a community outreach event for OneCommunity, and he went around to all the other booths to talk about ArkanSalsa Fest. It gave him confidence and taught him how to speak professionally to adults regarding something he’s passionate about. Diego is interested in biomedical engineering, and he certainly has the aptitude. He’s a good kid, and I am happy with who he is. I want more for him, but I tell him he has to do it for himself. He surprises me sometimes, and I find joy in those successes.”
Patricia volunteers for a number of organizations, including Umoja Soul Writers, an organization that supports expression through writing. She has arranged “open mic nights” as emcee at Common Grounds in Fayetteville and assisted with workshops for teens that encourage them to connect their feelings to poetry. Her son’s poem “NWA Summertime” was constructed in one of the workshops. “You never know what a child will write about, if it will be happy or painful; my favorite thing is hearing how beautiful it is, what young people have to say,” she said. “We don’t give kids enough credit for their thoughts and abilities. They know way more than we think they do. Let’s stop talking at them or rolling our eyes at them and just listen; sometimes they just want to be heard! This is an outlet for them. A lot of times, adults don’t give kids respect to their thoughts and ideas.”
“Mentor Mondays” at Springdale High School is another important organization to Patricia. The program connects high school students to mentors who share similar interests. Matches are made after a round of flash interviews, which help to determine the best fit for the mentor and mentee. After being matched up, the two share dinner and get to know each other. It lasts for one academic semester, and the best part is, there is no school work involved! The purpose is to help the student grow professionally in an informal, personable setting. SPSF Board Member, Judith Yanez, a former math teacher at SHS and mentor said “Patricia is self-directed in being a voice and finding ways to help marginalized individuals in our Northwest Arkansas community.”
Patricia is on her own personal quest for professional development, so she is not afraid to jump into difficult environments. “If you feel like you don’t know how to do something well, find an organization that does it well so that you can volunteer for them and help sharpen those skills. For me, I don’t know how to finish projects, so I joined Washington County Democrats Strategic Planning Committee.” Ironically, she discovered she is an asset to the team. Her connections in the community and understanding of social issues, such as poverty, really help the other committee members determine what ideas can work to make an impact in NWA.
Patricia credits her volunteering experiences with helping her land an Advocate position at the Center for Sexual Assault in Fayetteville. As a result, she and a colleague founded Arkansas Coalition for Healthy Youth (ARCHY), “promoting evidence-based sexuality and relationship education.” Because Arkansas ranks #1 in teen pregnancy and #3 in STI transmissions for young people, there is a huge need for this program. ARCHY aims to also lower instances of sexual assault and domestic violence for teens and to help parents learn the best ways to talk about these issues with their kids. Patricia designed the logo (pictured), and for those wanting to learn more, they invite you to visit www.facebook.com/ARhealthyyouth/.
When asked what her dream job would entail, Patricia responded, “Right now I see myself working with teenagers that some might think are high risk or considered ‘difficult.’ I would love to create a space where they feel welcome and not judged; and offer them a place to find something they care about, to connect them to mentors and opportunities. I would also love to offer a support group for them and their parents so that they can learn to communicate with each other and instill in them the tools they need for successful relationships.” Last, she “strongly believes people deserve a certain quality of life where they feel safe, and that their home is clean and healthy for children.”
SPSF NWA is proud of Patricia, and all the single moms in the scholarship program, for balancing parenting, work, kids’ activities, class work, household responsibilities and volunteer commitments. We wish Patricia, and all the single moms like her who work tirelessly for a better future for their children, a very Happy Mother’s Day.
Posted by Christina Meeks on Friday, May 12th, 2017 @ 5:00AM
Categories: Blogging, community resource, Inspiring, Latest News, Meet a Recipient, NWA Mother's Day Tribute
Tags: #BetterBrighterNWA, #ScholarshipsSupportSuccess, Meet a Recipient, Northwest Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas Community College, NWACC, Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas, SPSF NWA, University of Arkansas