June 9, 2009
SUNY graduate applies passion to downtown
21-year-old connecting the college to Cortland through Institute for Civic Engagement
Tim Rodriguez has spent a large chunk of his young life figuring out how to help others.
Since January, the recent SUNY Cortland graduate’s job has been to help downtown Cortland, as community outreach coordinator for the college’s Institute for Civic Engagement and its partner, Cortland Downtown Partnership.
The native of Poland, Herkimer County, a town on the edge of the Adirondacks, works on building bonds between the college and the city.
The events he has helped to plan include Chill-A-Bration, the summer concert series, Taste of Cortland and the Martin Luther King Day of Education and Service.
That mission of helping a community, which he will pursue until December as an AmeriCorps member, fits well with the times when he has raised money for Habitat for Humanity, built houses in North Carolina and Cortland, and navigated a river in rural India.
“Habitat for Humanity lets us build affordable, decent houses for people to live in, and we have fun while doing community service,” he said of his three years in SUNY Cortland’s chapter of the organization. “You build friendships, learn about situations people are in. You come out of the campus bubble and meet students you might not.”
He says this same theme applies to his efforts to tie college and city, working from his office at the Downtown Partnership in the Beard Building at 9 Main St.
Rodriguez, 21, was a star distance runner when he came to SUNY Cortland out of West Canada Valley Central.
He left the college’s varsity team after his freshman year but competed that summer on the Down Under Sports Tour. He started a club cross country team and continued to run. He used running as a way to raise money, first with a charity race in April 2007 where he and six other students ran 600 laps around a track to raise money for Habitat.
They collected $650.
The club followed that with a run from Cortland to Utica the following October, to raise money for children in Mozambique whose parents had died of AIDS. The relay took 25 hours and involved six people who ran 10 miles at a time, using primarily Route 13 and Route 5 to cover 150 miles. The team raised $700.
Rodriguez said he became interested in Habitat for Humanity as a college freshman and spent spring break of his sophomore year in North Carolina, building houses.
“That got me hooked,” he said.
In time, his passion grew for social issues such as injustice in all its forms. He needs that passion to do his job, he admits.
“I can’t say why,” he said. “I focused mostly on running in high school. Here, it was social issues. It grew. I don’t view it as helping people, I don’t think I’m anyone so great to go helping others. I like working with issues.”
“Tim is very civic-minded,” said Adam Megivern, Downtown Partnership director, who works with Rodriguez. “He is mellow and laid-back, but persistent. He started with a college perspective on things but has learned about the city, so he has begun to blend those two ways of thinking very well.”
Rodriguez has applied to be a Peace Corps volunteer next, for 2010. In the spring, he was chosen to receive a SUNY Award for Student Excellence, one of four given to SUNY Cortland.
A recreation major, he spent spring semester of his junior year in India as a Study Abroad student through the National Outdoor Leadership School.
“The main goal is to teach leadership in real outdoor settings, while learning about the environment and staying in homes,” he said.
Rodriguez and 13 other students traveled through a province on the edge of the Himalayas, bordering Tibet. They went rafting on the Ganges River, learning its history and studying survival techniques.
“We rafted 30 miles, three times, over two weeks,” he said. “We backpacked for two weeks. We studied wilderness first aid for five days. We did the home stay for two weeks. Then we backpacked again for a month.”
He was struck most by the willingness of people in their base village to host them.
“I was there for two weeks, staying with a family — two students with a family of five, vegetable farmers,” he said. “It was big for them because we were the first group to stay in homes there. The hosts had spent a year learning English for this.”
Rodriguez returned to SUNY Cortland a changed man, remembering the mountains’ beauty, and the people.
“The energy and friendship — the people were just open,” he said. “The social and political issues we heard about. They were trying to build roads, and in doing that they caused landslides. They had built a dam that wiped out villages. The mountains were being dynamited to make way for the dam and change the river’s course. The population along that river was equal to the U.S. population.”
He said he has taken from all of these experiences a sense of continually being active, of wanting to connect people.
“I think people need to know about social and community issues,” he said. “It’s important.”
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