The Good Scout: Jonathan Rodriguez honored for making a difference

Lance Shearer
Correspondent

We all know our fair share of takers. Jonathan Rodriguez, 13, a seventh-grader at Marco Island Charter Middle School, is a giver.

When this teenager sees something around him that could be made better, he jumps right in and acts; proving that one person can make a difference.

Last March, in the first flush of the coronavirus pandemic when protective masks were nowhere to be found, he stepped up once more. With no previous skill at sewing, he borrowed his mother’s old sewing machine, got some tips from her, cut out fabric and started sewing, said Maria Rodriguez, Jonathan’s mother.

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“He wanted to feel like he was helping,” said Maria. “He has to live up to the values he learned” as a Boy Scout, with the credo that ends with “brave, clean, and reverend.” Jonathan, in fact, is chaplain of his troop, Troop 2, and an altar server at St. Finbarr Parish. He ended up producing about 100 masks, switching to fabric straps when his supply of elastic ran out, and donated them to medical responders, starting with the nurses at Physicians Regional.

Jonathan has helped with the neighborhood Christmas party at the Habitat for Humanity community near Naples Manor where he and his mother live, and he realized as Christmas approached last year that no party would be possible. So, he took his own money, and bought 109 Christmas stockings, then leaned on his friends and family members to help provide candy, toys and coupons to fill them.

“I spent the whole day walking around knocking on doors, bringing stockings to the kids,” said Jonathan. “I was like the Grinch – at the end of the story,” after the Grinch realized the true meaning of Christmas, he clarified. “I wanted to save Christmas for them.”

Jonathan’s hours of work, not to mention the $600 of his own money he spent, got noticed. Maria Rodriguez said the Collier County Sheriff’s Office reached out to her and told her they wanted to give Jonathan their “Do the Right Thing” award. The department has had to revise their procedure due to the pandemic, but they managed to give Jonathan a surprise he won’t soon forget.

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When he was due to go to his scout meeting, instead the Sheriff’s Office put on a parade in his honor, with five squad cars, deputies, his principal at MICMS, Michele Wheeler, Collier School Board member Jory Westbrook, and Jonathan’s mother and grandmother, Yolanda Rodriguez, all on hand to pay him tribute and present his award. It was a feel-good event all around.

“I love attending events where students are honored!” said Wheeler. “Jonathan is a friendly, outgoing, positive role model for our students. I can’t help but smile every time I see him.”

“He’s a resilient go-getter who realized that the children in his neighborhood were going to miss out on Christmas. He took his own money and made it happen,” said Westberry. “It was great to see how all his neighbors came out to watch and be part of it. The community was so supportive.”

Jonathan, a hefty six foot two inches at age 13, also plays for the South Naples Trojans football team, plays drums and percussion in the school band, and maintains a 3.5 GPA. On Swamp Buggy Race weekend, Jonathan was back helping, selling raffle tickets in the stands to support his scout troop. He hopes to move up from the rank of second class to first class. His scoutmaster or adult leader, Michael Lofendo, said Jonathan is in the best tradition of scouting.

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“One of our main focuses is to help others. His actions have done good for the community.” Unfortunately, said Lofendo, while boy scouts typically sew on their own badges on their uniforms, there is no merit badge for sewing.