Sophia Rodriguez, a Hinesville, Georgia, 4-H member, has been awarded the national 2018 4-H Youth in Action Healthy Living Pillar Award. Rodriguez received the award for her effort to promote the emotional well-being of children in military families through her Tie Dye for Troops program.
She will be recognized at the National 4-H Council Legacy Awards in Washington, D.C., this month.
Created by Rodriguez, the Tie Dye for Troops program has served more than 500 children of military families at Fort Stewart, the largest U.S. Army installation east of the Mississippi River. She will receive a $5,000 college scholarship and serve as spokesperson for national 4-H agriculture programming.
The high school senior’s father returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after six years of service in the Army. Rodriguez’s personal and family journey to overcome the challenges of her father’s PTSD inspired her. Through her experience, she came to see emotional wellness as an important part of healthy living.
“Because I didn’t know about PTSD, I didn’t understand what my dad was experiencing and I often felt isolated and confused,” said Rodriguez, a fifth-year 4-H member and former Georgia 4-H State Board vice president. “I didn’t know how to talk about it, but after counseling, I learned it is important to express your feelings, and that sometimes it’s OK to not be OK.”
Rodriguez’s Tie Dye for Troops program uses a tie-dye craft project, a lesson plan and a comic book that she wrote to facilitate an open dialogue in which youths can explore and express their emotions. Rodriguez and fellow 4-H leaders visit the Fort Stewart School Age Centers each month to teach lessons on the importance of feelings, color and creativity. The Georgia National Guard State Youth Council has also been trained to teach the program.
“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 OK to feel or think certain ways. We also tie-dye pillowcases. The colors can get messy and chaotic, but with time and patience they can make something beautiful.”
Rodriguez tells the students to squeeze their pillow whenever they feel alone. “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,” she said.
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.
“The lack of awareness of mental health and support for military youth is troubling,” she said. “Military children can suffer from a variety of issues that often go undiagnosed. From academic problems to depression, having a parent in the military is challenging, and unfortunately, many students don’t have a place where they feel safe to communicate about those challenges.”
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.
“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,” Bozeman said.
Rodriguez is also a member of Georgia 4-H’s Clovers and Co. performing arts group, a military ambassador and a Health Rocks! ambassador. She also competes in land judging, forestry judging and poultry judging. She plans to attend UGA and hopes to continue her journey with 4-H at the collegiate level.
Rodriguez is one of three other 2018 Youth in Action winners: Cassandra Ivie of Utah, Serena Woodard of Oklahoma and Kyra-Lee Harry of New York.
To learn more about 4-H Youth in Action and to view the other pillar winners, visit www.4-h.org/youthinaction.
(Tenisha Bell of the National 4-H Council co-wrote this article.)