Tony Rodriguez is barely off his bike to start his lunch duty job at North Davis Elementary when the kids settling in for their chocolate milks and p-b-and j’s see him– and go wild.
“Hey Tony! Hey Tony! I did the jumprope assembly!” squeals one little girl heading over to the UCDavis student cloaked in a bright orange yard duty vest.
“I saw you!” smiles Rodriguez, putting up his hand and giving the excited girl a high five. For the next hour and a half Rodriguez is one of a half a dozen workers on duty making sure more than 500 students eat lunch and play safely until it’s time to go back to class. He says it’s a job he took to make some extra cash while attending college– but it’s also a way to make a difference in a child’s life by being supportive of their every achievement.
“I think it does a number for the self esteem. I think it makes them feel better. Every time I see kids playing wall ball and they finally get it and I give them a high five and say “good job”, you can see it right then and there–the children want so much reassurance. They love support. When you give them a high five or pat on the back they thrive on it.”
Tony grew up in Sacramento and says he thrived on this same kind thing in elementary school. When student teachers came in to help with studies they’d also tell the kids about their goals and their experiences, and what they wanted to do with their lives.
“It showed me there’s so many different possibilities in the world that’s not just in front of you. And things like that, people telling me things, it was like –whoa, I never knew that. I never saw it that way”
When he was 10 years old Tony’s goals for his future were planted during a visit to Lake Tahoe, when his friend’s dad showed him his first clear cut of forest. Right there Tony determined that when he grew up, he would change how people were allowed to treat the forest. His major at UCDavis is wildlife and fish conservation biology, with a bent toward restoring damaged habitats.
But saving the wilderness isn’t all Tony Rodriguez does on campus–he races with the UCDavis cyclist team. And he doesn’t just race—he wins. He’s either won or come in second at the conference championships since he joined the team and he averages 200 to 250 miles a week either riding or training.
“When I wake up in the morning I hate wasting a day.”
So whether it’s winning a cycling race, saving the planet or supporting the self-esteem of a seven-year-old, Tony Rodriguez is making sure his life is spent giving back, helping out and making a difference any way he can.
“When I go to bed at night I think about what I did today, motivating myself to do something in a day. I don’t know what…but I have to do something.”