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Leading by Example is a Rodriguez Family Tradition

The Story of High School Twins Following in their Family’s Footsteps to Bring Success and Leadership to the Latino Community

Sam and Sara are a couple of ordinary teens with extraordinary ambition. Sam, the more self-assured of the two, is a self-proclaimed band geek who cruised through years of straight A’s and countless academic achievements. But upon entering high school, he temporarily lost his way. Sara, who admits that her successes don’t seem to come as easily as her brother’s, once blew off an application essay to CHCI’s R2L NextGen program and her lackadaisical effort was met with rejection the first time she applied. A tough lesson she learned and readily and humbly shares today.

Like most teens, both have faced challenges and distractions inside and outside of the classroom. But as we recently learned when we caught up with them on a Sunday afternoon, you’ll find that they’re on a very promising trajectory these days.

They’re articulate, possess a social and cultural awareness beyond their years, and in their own respective way, exude a level of confidence that is both rare and refreshing. And they didn’t have to look too far to find their way again and reach the point they’re at today. “Our pursuit of education, our civic engagement and everything we do is driven by our parents and our sister,” Sam proudly shares.

Sam and Sara’s parents, Carmen and Tony, were born to immigrants and worked hard to become successful business owners and community leaders. They instilled in their children a relentless work ethic, the value of education and a responsibility to their community. For the last ten years, the real estate agents have covered their community with U.S. flags to celebrate the 4th of July. Last year, they put up nearly 2,000 flags as part of a tradition they have enjoyed as a family to thank their local customers for their business. And their community leadership doesn’t stop there. Carmen is one of the founders of Hate Has No Home Here, a neighborhood campaign to protect and celebrate their neighborhood’s diversity.

On top of the fine example set by their parents, there was no shortage of valuable lessons coming from Sam and Sara’s older sister Lucy. From a young age, she taught them to look around and be aware of the last names on the front of buildings and to think about the last names of those they looked up to – to be conscious of the lack of Latino representation wherever they went. It’s what Sam refers to as the “Story of Rodriguez.”

“You hear of a million different successful Smiths – you see their names on buildings, you hear their names in the news or read their names in books – but you rarely hear of or see the last name Rodriguez or other Latino surnames attached to prominent figures. Or at least not many. And we want to be part of the group of people that help put the name Rodriguez and others like it on the map.”

When Sam and Sara needed to find motivation throughout their high school careers, they turned to the story of Rodriguez and the many other lessons their family taught them while leading by example. It’s what lit and continues to fuel the fire behind their tenacious drive to succeed.

Sam and Sara also credit their neighborhood and their parents’ involvement in the community as a driving force behind their early success and motivation for social awareness. They grew up in North Park – one of the most linguistically and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Chicago.
In fact, their elementary school Mary G. Peterson, boasts on its website that 43 different languages are spoken at the homes of its students, including Spanish, Arabic, Gujarati, Urdu and Vietnamese, among others. Living in a neighborhood like North Park taught them the importance of community, diversity and representation.

While in high school, it was Sam’s participation in the R2L NextGen program that really allowed him to find his calling. “It was like he came back a new person,” Sara recalls. “He was always smart and driven, but when he got back – he was a lot more focused and he took a greater interest in issues affecting the community.”

After his time in Washington, D.C. with CHCI, Sam found his passion for government. It’s what he explains will allow him to explore his many interests like the environment and the economy and will allow him to make maximum impact in those areas and others. When Sara saw the positive effects that the program had on her brother, she gave the application process another shot and this time, gave it her all.

That’s what defines these siblings, they stop at nothing to reach their goals and take on new challenges every day. Sam and Sara have received many accolades in recognition of their superb grades, their achievements across numerous extracurricular activities and their community involvement.

And their hard work has paid off. They’re both attending college next fall on full-tuition scholarships funded by The Posse Foundation, an organization which supports public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential.

Sam will be attending Denison University, a private liberal arts college in Granville, Ohio, where he will study political science. Sara will be attending Oberlin College, a private liberal arts college in Oberlin, Ohio, where she plans to study sociology.

Sam and Sara are well on their way to making the Story of Rodriguez a reality. And it may end up being their own name on the front of a building one day. But their ambitions are focused on something bigger than themselves.

“Ultimately, my goal is happiness. You have to put yourself in a position where you are doing good for yourself so that you can do good for the world,” shared Sara.

“We are striving for success not just for ourselves, but for our community as well,” shared Sam.

Written by Adam Robles