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When Sophia met Dolly
Rodriguez meets Dolly
Dolly Parton and Liberty County 4-H'er Sophia Rodriguez. - photo by Provided

It’s not every day that someone gets a chance to meet Dolly Parton, but Liberty County 4-H President Sophia Rodriguez did.

Rodriguez, a junior at Bradwell Institute, was selected to represent the 4-H program worldwide at the premiere of Parton’s movie "Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love" at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Parton is a former 4-H student and the movie is based on her life. She also has a role in the film.

Rodriguez’s good reputation in 4-H got her a ticket to the premiere. She received a call one day asking if she was available on Nov. 22 for the premiere, and if she wanted to meet Parton.

"The National 4-H Council, to my knowledge, was looking for someone to represent the whole 4-H program worldwide," Rodriguez said. "I went to National 4-H Conference last year and from what I’ve heard, I made a good impression there. The adults in Georgia 4-H that are part of the National 4-H, spoke highly of me and I know they probably put in a good word for me."

Rodriguez attended the premiere with her mother Debbie Rodriguez, Dr. Bo Ryles of the National 4-H Council and 4-H leader Artise Stephens.

Rodriguez, wearing her official green 4-H blazer met Parton at a meet and greet event.

"Dr. Ryles was coaching me on all the things I could say and what I wanted to say. We were walking up to this room and there were people everywhere—security, camera people. Then all the doors opened in the room and all these people flooded in and among those people was Dolly," Rodriguez said. "She came in and shook all of our hands, and Dr. Ryles told her how I was in 4-H."

They talked about what Rodriguez does in 4-H and Parton shared her experiences as well.

"I asked her if she could send a message back to all the 4-Hers worldwide, what would she say. She said, ‘Follow your dreams. Do everything that you can to make your dreams come true,’" Rodriguez said. Rodriguez then gave Parton a 4-H, golden clover pin off her jacket as a gift.

Rodriguez also saw Jennifer Nettles, who plays Parton’s mother in the film and is a spokesperson for National 4-H. Rodriguez met Nettles before.

"She and Dr. Ryles are really good friends. We talked at the premiere. She always looks out for us, making sure that we get the best stuff. I know she had a hand in making all this happen," Rodriguez said.

At the movie premiere, Rodriguez walked down the red carpet with her mother and the 4-H representatives.

"Walking down the red carpet, everyone thinks you’re in the movie. So a bunch of random people have pictures of me on their phone," she said laughing. Rodriguez waved back at the photographers and audience.

Before the movie started the producer came out and recognized all the actors. Parton then told the audience the movie was her biggest dream and was happy to have her family there.

Rodriguez enjoyed the movie and said it had a good Christmas message of "Never give up hope" and "There will always be a Christmas miracle."

During a reception, Rodriguez sat with some of Parton’s family members and met Parton’s sister.

Rodriguez described her experience as "phenomenal" and Kasey Bozeman, Liberty County 4-H county extension agent, called it a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

Rodriguez wants students to know that 4-H offers so many opportunities.

"I would tell students to just join. A lot of people think 4-H is solely agriculture, but we do programs in citizenship, in health, in STEAM and art. Just a lot of things," Rodriguez said. "4-H helps you grow to be confident and independent and you give back to your community. Giving back to your community will give back to you. You have so many opportunities 4-H gives you and it’s so much fun."

"Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love" premiered on NBC on Wednesday, November 30.

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