Boyle Heights -- Seventeen-year-old Jimmy Rodriguez wanted to give back to his community. So, he decided to volunteer to clean a freeway roadside near his home-- becoming the youngest person in the Los Angeles area to participate in Caltrans' Adopt-A-Highway program.
Rodriguez is now the proud adopter of an eastbound stretch of the I-10 Freeway between State Street and Eastern Avenue that is close to his Boyle Heights home.
“My goal is to make my portion of the freeway completely clean and keep it that way," said Rodriguez. "I also want to plant beautiful plants and flowers so that when people drive by and see how clean it is, they’ll feel that my neighborhood is clean and beautiful too."
The recent Wilson High School grad does the cleaning on the weekends, twice a month. Bright and early at 7 a.m., he’ll start picking up litter, like aluminum cans and plastic bags, with other volunteers. He started the endeavor with best friend Cristian Marroquin.
“We would finish by 11 a.m. to avoid the intense sun and heat,” said Rodriguez. “I had to convince my family I was serious about it and it wasn’t as dangerous as they thought it would be.”
Rodriguez already had a lot on his plate, but he wanted to give back to his community just like his mom had done. She would volunteer her time at soup kitchens, churches and donate items to charities and teach her children the importance of volunteering.
One day when he and his family were driving down I-10, Rodriguez noticed the Caltrans “1-866-ADOPT-A-HWY - Your Name Here” sign, so he made it his goal to put his name there.
It’s not a small commitment to adopt a highway. You must clean a part of the freeway at least twice a month for a five-year period. Rodriguez knew it was a risky move, because he isn’t sure if he might move to the University of Oregon for college, but he decided to go through with the responsibility.
“I felt fulfilled in my desire to do community service,” he added.
If he does leave to Oregon, Rodriguez, who is looking at careers in either real estate or graphic design, is confident the cleaning would still continue. He knows his family would never leave his responsibilities unfinished and he has faith in his friends as well. He plans on scheduling days to fly back for a weekend to continue to do the work.
Roadside cleaning isn’t the only way Rodriguez gives his time to philanthropic causes. He participates in the annual Autism Speaks Walk in Pasadena as a team captain. He also works part-time at a local pizzeria.
Despite his busy schedule, the teen still has time for fun and enjoys going to Boyle Heights coffee houses and pizza parlors.
The Caltrans’ Adopt-A-Highway (AAH) Program began in 1989 and it gives individuals, businesses or organizations the opportunity to help clean and maintain roadsides of California’s State Highway System. According to Caltrans, over 120,000 Californians have cleaned more than 15,000 shoulder-miles of roadside.