CHEVY CHASE, MD — Sophia Rodriguez of Hinesville has won the 2018 4-H Youth in Action Healthy Living Pillar Award, according to the National 4-H Council.
She will be nationally recognized for leadership in promoting emotional well-being through her "Tie Dye for Troops" program, which has benefited more than 500 children of military families at Fort Stewart and in other communities nationwide.
As the 2018 winner, she will receive a $5,000 college scholarship and will serve as spokesperson for 4-H Healthy Living programming. She will be recognized at the National 4-H Council Legacy Awards in Washington, D.C. on March 20.
Living near Fort Stewart, the largest military installation east of the Mississippi River, the graduating high school senior was inspired to start the program because of witnessing the challenges military families face. Her work was informed by her personal journey overcoming the challenges of her father’s post-traumatic stress disorder when he returned home after his service in the Army.
Through her own experience, Rodriguez came to see emotional wellness as an important part of healthy living just like nutrition and physical activity, and she wanted to share those same concepts with other military youth. Her "Tie Dye for Troops" program uses a tie dye craft project and a comic book that she wrote and illustrated herself as a vehicle for facilitating open dialogue where youth can explore and express their emotions. Rodriguez teaches the program regularly at the Fort Stewart School Age Center. The Georgia National Guard State Youth Council has also been trained to teach the program, and she has presented a workshop about her work at the National Youth-at-Risk Conference.
"Because I didn’t know about PTSD, I didn’t understand what my dad was experiencing and I often felt isolated and confused," says Rodriguez about her experiences navigating the challenges of her dad’s condition. "I didn’t know how to talk about it, I learned it is important to express your feelings and that sometimes it’s OK to not be OK."
"The lack of awareness of mental health and support for military youth is troubling," she added. "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," she says.
Rodriguez is joined by three other 2018 Youth in Action winners, Cassandra Ivie of Utah (STEM Pillar Winner); Serena Woodard of Oklahoma (Agriculture Pillar Winner); and Kyra- Lee Harry of New York (Citizenship Pillar Winner).
To learn more about 4-H Youth in Action and to view the other pillar winners, visit: www.4-h.org/youthinaction.