How to help
You can learn more about Alina Gives Back, including how to help by donating books on April 30 and more at www.alinagivesback.com and follow on Facebook.
What began as a child’s question about other children without toys remaining in the Belize orphanage from which she was adopted has become an ongoing mission of a Braselton family.
Alina Gives Back is a nonprofit for which Alina Rodriguez, now 13 and a 10th-grader Georgia Cyber Academy student, returns to Belize to deliver toys and toiletries and host a dinner meal and a summer day camp at the orphanage.
Dominique Rodriguez and her husband had struggled for years to conceive a child and began to explore adoption. Her mother, who was born in Belize and returned there after retirement, joined the mission to find them a child. One day, the couple got a call from her.
“I have found your daughter,” she said of the orphaned toddler she took home with her, thus began the lengthy formal process to adopt Alina and bring her to the United States. The bond between grandmother and granddaughter developed as Alina lived with Dominique’s mother for several months.
Alina was in kindergarten when she asked about the children she had known at the Dorothy Menzies Child Care Center in Belize. She remembered the simplicity of the surroundings compared to what she was enjoying in her Georgia home, and she wanted to share with others.
“This all happened by accident because of my daughter,” said Dominique, who began asking store managers for donations for Alina’s goal of providing for the children she left behind in the orphanage. Before long, Alina was making the requests.
“She is my little angel,” says Dominique of her daughter, who was recently accepted to the Governor’s Honors Program in English with math as her minor. She is one of a few 13-year-olds selected to participate in this summer’s residential program at Valdosta State University for gifted and talented high school students who will be rising juniors and seniors during the program. Applying for Governor’s Honors is an arduous process and Georgia Cyber Academy instructors assisted.
The day after she returns from Governor’s Honors, Alina will head to Belize. While there, in addition to conducting the summer day camp, she will also be tutoring kids a few hours a day almost until school starts back.
“It’s going to be a busy summer,” Dominique said.
This year, a local book drive is being conducted to make books available to children as well as adults of the community near the orphanage. A collection box will be in the front yard of the family’s home on April 30 to collect book donations for this summer’s visit to Belize. New and used books are being accepted.
“We would like to collect 400 books to take and invite the community to come to a book fair event,” said Dominque. “Every summer, we donate things to the orphanage and host a meal dinner during which Alina talks with other kids there.”
The books are a special addition with Alina’s touch since she has always loved reading and would get caught reading with a flashlight after bedtime. Punishment for her was taking her books away, says her mom.
For the family, Georgia Cyber Academy has been a blessing. Diagnosed with ADHD, Alina was talkative in classes and that disruption prompted a look for other educational options. Because Dominique has multiple sclerosis and is often at the doctor’s office or hospitalized, Alina can be there to assist but still be engaged with her school work.
“There are advantages to studying at home,” Alina said. “I can be in my pajamas. And because my mom has MS and has to go to several different medical appointment, I can take my laptop and do my schoolwork.”
Georgia Cyber Academy teachers give Alina high marks for classwork and beyond.
“Alina is super. Not only is she a beautiful person on the inside, but she outwardly shines as well,” said her homeroom and geography teacher, Michelle Cowan. “Alina has a level of intellect higher than most at her age. She is a definitely smart, one-of-a-kind and overall fantastic human being,”
Jennifer Smiddy says Alina is “an all-star student” who is an active member of live class who works independently and keeps up-to-date on assignments.
Teacher Leslie Clark says Alina is fun to teach and she is always looking for ways to improve herself.
“We put our all into her but Alina also keeps me pushing ahead,” said Dominique, who notes the flexibility of Georgia Cyber Academy has allowed Alina to move through the online curriculum at her own pace, allowing her to excel past her peers and still have time to devote to her charitable efforts as well as volunteering at a local animal shelter and nursing home.
Alina said this year’s summer camp will include trips to the library, key speakers coming in each day, a trip to the Belize Zoo and even a visit to the Mayan ruins.
“The kids will love seeing the native Mayan ruins,” said Alina. “It’s a long trip but very rewarding. When you live there, you don’t see the activities.
“It feels amazing to go back to Belize. You get these whole feelings about the place you were born and it’s invigorating. I love helping everyone there and I want to really help use my talents into a beautiful place. I want to keep giving back to Belize.”
She learned leadership skills at a young age, learning to communicate well and organize events.
“I learned to come forward and state my ideas,” said Alina, who credits her mother with instilling confidence in her. “You don’t have to wait because you are younger. It’s what is in your heart that matters.”