Rosa Rodriguez didn’t have much growing up. Her grandparents raised her, and they moved around a lot, from Logan Heights to Skyline’s Meadowbrook Apartments. Then her grandmother died when Rosa was just 12 years old. Times were tough.
“I would say I was somewhat of a troubled teenager. I wasn’t making the smartest choices. I was getting into enough fights to get me kicked out of Madison High School.”
School was not her highest priority then. She didn’t really have a choice.
“I was juggling going to school, work, and taking care of my grandpa. I was his caregiver and doing everything from giving him medication and taking him to doctors’ appointments. I had to learn how to drive at the age of 13 to help get him to the appointments and to the hospital.”
“School” was the San Diego County Office of Education Juvenile Court & Community School Sports Academy at the Jackie Robinson YMCA in San Diego. There, Rodriguez recalls, she met a role model, Mr. Charles Muhammed, who pushed her to graduate from high school. And she did — at age 16.
While at the Y, Rodriguez and her classmates would receive items that many youngsters take for granted.
“I was the kid who would get the free back-to-school backpacks,” Rodriguez said. “Then for Christmas I was that kid who would go and pick out a present.”
She never forgot that.
Later in life Rodriguez, now 28, married and began raising a family: Tony, now 12; Gabriel, 10, and Chelsey, 8.
While attending PTA meetings, she learned that many students at her children’s school were homeless. She discovered kids were showing up for a class with just a pencil, and she remembered what it was like being one of those students who have little.
She and her husband, Victor, and her kids then set out to change that. Tony suggested giving students backpacks; Chelsey chimed in with the idea of adding school supplies. In 2017, they began their endeavor at their school, Madison Elementary in El Cajon.
That first year, they were able to donate about 50 new backpacks with school supplies and basic hygiene items.
In 2021, with the help of their Subaru car club — the San Diego Subies — the RoughBreed Riderz MC motorcycle club, community members and a fundraiser at Mujeres Brew House in Logan Heights, they collected 200 backpacks.
At the event Chicano Park Vive! on Aug. 21, folks dropped off the backpacks to donate, and Rodriguez gave backpacks to kids. The bags contained a special treat: a coupon for a free ice cream from the family’s business, Rodriguez Paletas.
During that event, Rodriguez said, a little boy, perhaps 8 or 9, received a Looney Tunes backpack. Her children noticed the boy did not let go of that backpack the entire time he was there.
“That really made our day,” she said.
About this series
Michael Brunker is a member of the U-T’s Community Advisory Board. He is the principal at michaelbrunker.net and a former YMCA executive director and former basketball coach at San Diego State University.
Someone San Diego Should Know is a weekly column written by members of the U-T’s Community Advisory Board about local people who are interesting and noteworthy because of their experiences, achievements, creativity or credentials.