Miami Palmetto High School incoming senior Pedro Rodriguez was on Culebra, an island off the coast of Puerto Rico, distributing supplies to help residents suffering the from effects of Hurricane Irma. He wasn’t able to get away before Hurricane Maria raged over the island.
“We went over there to help and we got stuck there when Hurricane Maria hit,” he says. “We went from helping others to helping ourselves.”
Rodriguez moved to Miami just a few months before the hurricanes – he went through Hurricane Irma in Miami and returned to Puerto Rico to donate supplies.
He visits the island every few months and brings clothes to distribute to the needy. He also does this here in Miami.
“I have a clothes drive where people donate to me and I redistribute them,” he says. “I go out to churches and homeless shelters. I donate clothes and school supplies.”
That work earned him the Outstanding Service Award from Palmetto.
All of this comes after undergoing an eight-hour surgery to remove a brain tumor three years ago.
“A very dangerous brain tumor almost got the point of cancer,” he says. “It was spreading very fast. It was an urgent surgery. I still have the effects to this day.”
The tumor affected his speech and he still has problems with the right side of his body.
“Especially my right hand and my right leg,” he says.
He was right-handed but now does almost everything with his left hand.
This summer he had surgery to deal with an infection on his foot.
When he lived in Puerto Rico, he volunteered at the Fernando de Juncos Orphanage. He tutored the children and taught them how to speak English.
“I had the privilege of going to the only American school in my area,” he says. “We were raised in English. That helped a lot.”
He also worked to save endangered turtles. He started volunteering with conservation organizations such as 7 Quillas in sixth grade.
“They have a nesting season,” he says. “From the moment they came to the beach, we would be helping them, we would be tagging them, we would be protecting the eggs. If the big turtles were injured, we would rehabilitate them and release them in the wild. The sea turtle we protected, the leatherback, it went from the most critically endangered animal, to less endangered.”
He’s also participated in coastal clean-ups in Miami-Dade and raised money for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
At school, he’s president of Model United Nations/Debate Club.
“I go to local middle schools and teach the kids debate,” he says.
He is a member of Students Working Against Tobacco. He goes out and talks to middle school and high school students about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
“I dedicate a lot of time to that,” he says. “I have family members that have died because of lung cancer because of smoking.”
He frequently visits an American Legion Veteran’s Home to visit with the veterans. He makes sure he goes to the post when they have fundraisers.
“I spread the voice on social media. And I’ll go with 10-20 people, he says.”
Rodriguez plans to run for Student Government Class Representative for his third year in that position. He’s the past historian in the Italian Honor Society, and a member of Key Club and the UNICEF Club.
He’s applying to Florida International University and Florida State University. Rodriguez has been nominated for a Posse Scholarship so he’s considering which of the Posse partner schools to attend to study business and political science if he wins the scholarship.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld