Sophia Rodriguez’s 4-H project hit close to home for the Liberty County, Georgia, senior.
After her dad was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while serving in the military, Rodriguez, a fifth-year 4-H member and former Georgia 4-H State Board vice president, wanted to create a support system for military kids like herself.
“Different people go through different things regardless of severity, and I wanted to create a support system to show the validity of their feelings,” Rodriguez said.
She created Tie-Dye for Troops, a military youth program in Liberty County, where most of the 4-H members’ parents serve at Fort Stewart.
In the program, Rodriguez and fellow 4-H leaders visit the base’s School Age Centers, where they teach children lessons on the importance of feelings, color and creativity.
“We begin with asking kids simple questions they can easily answer, such as, ‘Do you like the color green?’ And they tell us whether or not they do and why,” she said. “Then we transition into a lesson on why it’s okay to feel or think certain ways.”
One of the activities Rodriguez started was tie-dying pillowcases. She explained that colors can get messy and chaotic, but with time and patience they can make something beautiful.
“I tell the students to squeeze their pillow whenever they feel alone,” Rodriguez said. “Because we made them together, I wanted it to serve as a reminder that we’re always there for them and that their feelings matter.”
Rodriguez said that she loves being a part of something bigger than herself and showing students the importance of taking care of their mental health.
“Contributing to the community is so important, and I loved every minute of helping the kids understand that it’s okay to ask for help,” she said.
Kasey Bozeman, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 4-H agent in Liberty County, said that Rodriguez goes above and beyond to make this program successful.
“Sophia is an incredible leader, and she does a great job of leading this program while also managing to attend college classes, play sports and be involved in other clubs and organizations,” Bozeman said. “Having known Sophia for the past six years, I’ve seen her leadership skills flourish through her 4-H involvement. This is one of many projects she has led that impacted others. I’m incredibly honored and blessed to know her.”
Rodriguez talks about her project at national conferences and workshops so that other military kids across the country can benefit from it.
“While getting to share about my project has been awesome, the most rewarding part is getting to actually teach the lesson with military kids,” she said. “I know exactly what it is like for these kids — some days it can just be really hard. I hope my project is fun and exciting, but that it also leaves them with something tangible to remember to always be positive and have hope.”
Other than being the creator of this military youth program, Rodriguez is a member of Georgia 4-H’s performing arts group Clovers and Company, a military ambassador and a Health Rocks! ambassador. She also competes in land judging, forestry judging and poultry judging.
Rodriguez plans to attend UGA after she graduates from high school in the spring. She hopes to continue her journey with 4-H on the collegiate level while upholding the 4-H motto: “To make the best better.”
Julie Jernigan is an intern at the UGA Tifton campus.