By Rich Pollack
Barbara Rodriguez wanted her daughter, Gabby, to understand the importance of helping others and to recognize that other children exist who are less fortunate.
“I wanted to find a place in the community that would give her a sense of perspective,” Rodriguez said.
So soon after the single mom moved to Highland Beach from the west coast of Florida, she and Gabby began volunteering for the Delray Beach-based AVDA, Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, visiting a shelter one day a month and helping throw parties for children there.
Now 4 1/2 years later, Rodriguez, 39, and Gabby, 16, still make their monthly visits, bringing pizza and cake, celebrating the children’s birthdays and just having fun.
“I started out volunteering there to be a good role model for my daughter,” Rodriguez said. “I try to show her that giving is very important.”
The lesson seems to have stuck, since both Gabby and her mom look forward to their visits and make it a point to be there every month, if possible.
“Gabby has discovered that she enjoys working with children,” says Rodriguez, director of national accounts for Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa. “She’s shown a lot of interest in a possible career working with kids.”
Because of her commitment and efforts on behalf of the organization, Rodriguez was asked to join the AVDA board of directors a year and a half ago.
“It’s great to get to know the community leaders on the board and to learn from their experience,” she said.
Next month, Rodriguez and several other members of the AVDA board will attend the organization’s Heart of a Woman Luncheon, an annual fundraiser that will be Feb. 28 at Royal Palm Yacht Club in Boca Raton.
Chaired by Jeannette DeOrchis, Rosemary Krieger, Anne Vegso and Gail Veros, the event, which celebrates the strength, courage and determination of women, will feature Melissa Dohme Hill as the guest speaker.
Hill was stabbed 32 times by a former boyfriend. She tells her story and speaks out against domestic violence.
Rodriguez says the stories she hears from survivors at the luncheon are both eye-opening and inspiring.
“It teaches you that this can happen to anyone and it reinforces my belief that this is a worthy cause to be associated with,” she said.
While growing up, Rodriguez witnessed domestic violence in her neighborhood and in her own home.
“I saw my mom going through domestic violence,” she said, adding that she also knew neighbors who were physically abused. “Sometimes it becomes part of your norm until you grow older and you realize it’s not right.”
Seeing the physical and verbal abuse has been part of what motivates Rodriguez to support AVDA and to share her passion with her daughter, as well as with friends and co-workers.
“It has given me the strength to be involved and to speak up for people who struggle every day,” she said.
A graduate of University of Sacred Heart in Puerto Rico, where she studied media and public relations, Rodriguez began her career in the hospitality industry at an early age, making change in a casino at 19.
There she met people from all walks of life and learned a valuable lesson about working with and helping others.
“People all want to feel important and connected,” she said. “They want you to recognize them as a person and treat them with respect.”
While her original motivation in volunteering for AVDA was to help her daughter, Rodriguez says that she too is benefiting from the experience.
“It fills my heart when I’m helping other people,” she says. “I get more than I give.”
If You Go
11th annual Heart of a Woman luncheon benefiting AVDA
When: Feb. 28
Time: 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Where: Royal Palm Yacht Club, Boca Raton
Who: Melissa Dohme Hill, guest speaker
Tickets: $175 per person
More information: Call 265-3797 or visit www.avdaonline.org/heart-of-a-woman