TAMPA — Mónica Rodríguez learned about selflessness as a young girl in a household where all were welcome.
“My grandparents were people who were willing to support us as much as possible,” said Rodríguez, 47, who grew up in the state of Zacatecas, in north central Mexico. “The doors of their house were always open to everyone.”
Polo and Tina Hernández taught their granddaughter and the rest of their large working family about the value of helping people without expecting anything in return.
The only difference now is that the family, all those whom Rodríguez embraces through her service to others, has grown and spread to every corner of Hillsborough County. Carrying on her grandparents’ philosophy has earned her the honor of Tampa Hispanic Heritage, Inc. 2021 Hispanic Woman of the Year from the nonprofit Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc.
Rodríguez joins Man of the Year Romulo Camargo, a retired chief warrant officer with U.S. Army special forces and founder of the Stay In Step Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center in Tampa. They will be honored during a gala Oct. 16 at the Hilton Tampa Downtown, 211 N. Tampa Street.
Rodríguez works as a senior sales manager for a statewide Medicare Advantage plan, but it’s harder to keep track of the organizations where she has volunteered. Chief among them now is her leadership of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the Latino Coalition of Tampa Bay.
“I think it is important to contribute something, however minimal it may be, to our community,” Rodríguez said. “There is no greater satisfaction than seeing the happy smile of a child or the gratitude of a family.”
Rodríguez was 13 when she and her parents Juan and Elisa Becerra left Mexico along with her two other siblings and settled in California. Rodríguez studied human services at Long Beach City College and graduated with honors from Thomas University, in Thomasville, Ga.
Rodríguez is married to Luis Rodríguez, 56, and is the mother of three adult kids. She was a supervisor for 12 years at the Healthy Start Coalition of Hillsborough County, a nonprofit that works to improve the health of pregnant women. Now, she’s senior sales manager at CarePlus Health Plans.
Tampa Hispanic Heritage considered 10 nominations submitted at its website this year as it sought out women who have distinguished themselves through social commitment that goes beyond their careers.
“Monica volunteers in so many organizations,” said Maribel Garrett, president of Tampa Hispanic Heritage. “She is constantly striving for excellence through her leadership.”
Rodríguez also has served on the Community Advisory Committee at Hillsborough Community College, the Children’s Board Grant Community review committee, and the Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties Behavioral Health Task Force/Opioid Crisis Subcommittee.
As chairwoman of the Latino Coalition of Tampa Bay, she has helped to identify neighborhoods lacking food and to organize community events to help families in need. She also has been working to gather donations of food and backpacks to low-income students, and to organize community events and public campaigns against the spread of COVID-19.
As president of the sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council, she called for donations and funding to ensure that students in need have access to a computer or notebook. Last year, she coordinated the donation of 25 refurbished computers to students at Dover Elementary School with help from eSmart Recycling in Tampa. This year she hopes to see 60 computers donated to children of seasonal workers.
“We have a growing Hispanic community, but at the same time there are many needs,” Rodríguez said. “That is why our commitment is constantly renewing.”
Sheriff Chad Chronister said Rodríguez has displayed a remarkable drive to serve her community.
“Under her leadership, the council has helped families across Hillsborough County in many big ways,” Chronister said. “We value her initiative and the passion with which she carries out her role and congratulates her for her latest achievement as Hispanic Woman of the Year.”
Rodríguez is also a member of the Hispanic Professional Women Association and business manager of the Latin American Motorcycle Association, a group that holds fundraising events benefiting Moffitt Cancer Center and St. Joseph Children’s Hospital.
Still, she said, the award does not belong to her but to all the people who work hard to improve lives.
“It ‘s an honor because many deserve it,” Rodríguez said. “But more than a personal recognition, I think this award is for our community.”