WALLINGFORD — In 2004, Adriana Rodriguez was a 14-year-old volunteer at the Spanish Community of Wallingford who played games and did arts and crafts with the center’s children.
“I think it's important to give back to the community and help the Spanish community,” she told the Record-Journal in 2004. “It's better for teens to come help these kids with their English and get out and help instead of sitting home and watching television.”
At age 16, she accepted a part-time position at SCOW as an administrative assistant and worked her way up, eventually becoming program director.
During the summer, former executive director Maria Campos-Harlow accepted the position of chief professional officer at the United Way of Meriden-Wallingford, and Rodriguez moved up once more, appointed to the role of interim executive director.
“It has been an incredible experience so far,” Rodriguez said, “and I am very lucky to have a supportive staff and board of directors helping me through this transition. I am so grateful to have received immense support from the town and community members.”
She plans to continue the organization’s programs.
“I will be continuing the work we have,” Rodriguez said. “We will continue all the youth programming, the services that we provide for the community, working with the board of directors and with different organizations to continue the great work of the staff that we do here.”
SCOW provides educational and leadership programs for kids of all ages, social services and immigration services assistance, and a music school.
SCOW’s annual budget is $290,000, according to SCOW treasurer Steve Knight. A large portion of this year’s funding comes from a one-time grant from the state of $127,000.
The Town of Wallingford contributed $10,000, as well as building space and maintenance and utilities, which Knight estimates is worth about $50,000.
Other funding comes from participation fees for the music school, grants, fundraisers and personal donations.
Rodriguez’s positive influence has extended to the children she mentored as a teen.
One of those children, Michelle Orozco, followed in Rodriguez’s footsteps and today is the president of Adelante, SCOW’s high school program.
Orozco, 17, is a senior at Lyman Hall High School. She’s participated since she began high school and has served as group president for two years.
“We have Adelante Trojans and Titans, which is after-school programs at the high schools,” Orozco said.
“Many people think that Adelante is for Hispanic kids, but we actually have it open for everybody.”
Rodriguez said Adelante began in 2010, and 130 students since have participated. The goals of the group are to make students comfortable, feel welcome and do good for the community.
“We knew there was a need,” she said. “I grew up in Wallingford, so I wanted to apply things I wish I had, to support me and different skills I have to learn.”
Group activities focus on leadership skills, employability and career orientation, all to help students prepare for post-high school life. Students also participate year-round in community service projects.
“We really want the students to be successful in their own ways,” she said, whether it’s at college, trade school or in business. “We really want them to continue in Wallingford and give back, and come back.”
The United Way of Meriden-Wallingford provides a substantial grant, Knight said, that funds Adelante and Pasos Adelante, the middle school youth program.
Spanish Community of Wallingford programs
Information provided by Adriana Rodriguez, interim executive director
¡Adelante! America takes place 5-7 p.m. Mondays and is for high school students. The program provides a safe and positive environment to learn, lead and to be involved in their community. By taking part in the program, they demonstrate an increased understanding of what is needed for them to succeed after high school, in college, vocational school, and on the job. They also show an improvement in their leadership skills and their interpersonal relationships.
Pasos ¡Adelante! takes place 4:30-6 p.m. Wednesdays. Pasos is for students in grades 7 and 8. The focus is similar to ¡Adelante! but also prepares them for their high school experience.
SCOW School of Music provides training in classical music to children aged 7 to 17. The children receive classical music instruction, learn to play musical instruments and sing in Spanish. The 7-year-olds begin by singing traditional folk music in Spanish and learning basic rhythm. At age 8, the children choose guitar, violin or piano to study.
The Bebés Activos (Active Babies) playgroup provides an opportunity for children younger than 1 to age 5 to learn early education skills in preparation for preschool.
The Energy Assistance program is run by New Opportunities of Greater Meriden and is available now until May. A representative from New Opportunities comes on Tuesdays to accept and process fuel assistance applications.
Zumba fitness classes are offered on Mondays and Fridays.