By Julia Grimaldi
On Jan. 28, 2015, while most students were getting situated with the beginning of the spring semester at KU, first year student Jennifer Rodriguez received the Josefina A. Berrios Community Service Award. This award, presented by the Bethlehem Housing Authority, is given to a member of the community who has made a large impact by volunteering.
Josefina A. Berrios, who the award was named after, was a Bethlehem housing authority resident who used to clean the streets of her community in her spare time. When she died in 2000, the authority created an award to honor her service. The award is given every year on Berrios’s birthday.
Rodriguez, an 18-year-old business management major at KU, is the award’s youngest winner. However, her experience makes up for her age. Rodriquez has volunteered with the Relay For Life, and has been a tutor and teacher’s assistant at Northeast Middle School, Liberty High School and Church Of The Living Well.
Rodriguez feels a personal connection with Relay For Life because she overcame cancer when she was 8. Her mother died from the disease when she was 16. Like her mother, Josefina A. Berrios was a grounds worker in her community, a great cook and passed away from cancer.
“[Cancer] always reminds [me] to be grateful for each day and to always be strong and have faith that everything happens for a reason. Even if we do not understand why today, we will understand it tomorrow,” said Rodriguez.
In high school, Rodriguez was captain of a Relay for Life team called Cancer Crushers. “I was inspired to volunteer for Relay For Life because I know how it feels to go through treatment and be in need of support and have a desire for a cure. Relay For Life is a way to have a strong support while being impacted by cancer,” said Rodriguez.
In high school, Rodriguez was also involved in the yearbook, bible club, Latino leadership, Spanish club, key club, the mentoring program, the band and the choir. At KU, she is a member of the Association of Campus Events, Kutztown Christian Fellowship, KU Krew and Bonner Hall Council.
Besides receiving the Josefina A. Berrios Community Service Award, Rodriguez was Teen of The Year for the YWCA in 2014, prom queen, Puerto Rican Cultural Preservation (PRCP), Ms. Puerto Rico in the Lehigh Valley and received the awards of Bethlehem Housing Authority Commissioner’s Scholarship and Award. She was also awarded the Hispanic Center Scholarship and Award, the Corazones Unidos Simpre/Chi Upsilon Sigma Latin Sorority, Inc.’s “La Beca del Mucaro” Mato’s Giveback Award and the Latino Leadership Award.
“The advice I have for those who are struggling is to never give up hope and to have faith in God. At the end of the struggle it will make you a stronger person,” said Rodriguez.