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Life & Work with Erick Rodriguez of CoachArt

Today we’d like to introduce you to Erick Rodriguez.

Hi Erick, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
I’m a bilingual Latinx and native Angeleno. I had to grow up pretty quickly because, as a child of immigrant parents, you tend to experience hurdles that try to influence your narrative if you let them. For a while, it was just my older brother and me moving around a lot. I discovered my artistic drive in the first grade in Bell Gardens when I won a school contest with a book I wrote and illustrated about a farm. Since then, I have loved to draw and paint, but I was all about dance in high school. My high school in Sun Valley didn’t have a dance team, so I started one, and it was popular enough that the school eventually hired a dance coach to lead an after-school program. I learned about choreography and various styles of dance. By the time I was a senior, I was teaching younger kids about dance, and I realized I loved teaching. I taught dance and drawing workshops for After-School All-Stars, Los Angeles, a nationwide non-profit started by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was a camp counselor for four summers in New England with the nonprofit Crossroads. I also worked with the Los Angeles Unified School District as a teacher’s assistant.

Since 2015 I have worked for CoachArt, a non-profit that offers free art and athletic lessons to kids with chronic illness and their healthy siblings. It’s a dream job for me because it combines so many of my passions. The kids we serve often miss out on recreational activities at school or don’t get the accommodations they need, and CoachArt brings a sense of normalcy back to their lives. They get to see beyond the diagnosis and begin to see themselves as the artists and athletes they are. I’m the Director of Group Programs, which are mostly four-week clubs where groups of kids receive lessons on activities that interest them like painting, baking, coding, hip-hop dance, martial arts, and more. I also oversee the Junior Volunteer Program, which provides the opportunity to high school students to volunteer with CoachArt. And I manage CoachArt’s relations with Los Angeles program partners and hospital support groups. CoachArt also matches volunteer coaches with kids for one-on-one lessons. Currently, all our programming is online due to the pandemic, but of course, we’re looking forward to working with kids in person again.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
After high school, I decided to postpone college for a couple of years to gain experience and save money for tuition since I didn’t have financial support from my family. Eventually, I was able to send myself back to school and graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, emphasizing social inequalities and helping professions from the California State University Dominguez Hills. By the time I saw the Program Coordinator job opening with CoachArt, my first role with the organization, I had barely earned an Associate’s Degree, and I didn’t yet have the Bachelor’s Degree that was listed as a job requirement. But I knew I was a great candidate for the position, and I had developed an attitude that gave me confidence — I often think, “why not me?” and “just go for it.” It doesn’t hurt to try, right? I got the job, and it has changed my life.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
In my free time, I love trekking and camping. I’ve hiked several SoCal peaks, the Trans-Catalina Trail, and mountains on the east coast, including the Appalachian Trail in Maine and the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I have even done an 8-day trek through Big Horn National Forest in Wyoming! I recently started facilitating guided art workshops outside of CoachArt too. You can follow my personal Instagram art account @artwitherick for tutorials and information on upcoming workshops.

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned along your journey?
One of my favorite quotes is: “If there is no way, create one.” That’s what I did when I created a dance group in high school and when I created a drawing and painting workshop for the after-school program. When I came to CoachArt, the staff matched volunteer coaches with kids, but we didn’t work directly with kids ourselves. I initiated the program of staff-led activities, and of course, the first club I led at CoachArt was a dance club. Now, it’s standard for our program staff to facilitate activities. I believe that working directly with kids has given staff more joy, which is important at a non-profit because it helps with staying connected with the mission and gives staff a richer sense of the kids and families we’re serving. Being involved with the programs also means we can make more informed decisions about the services we offer. I also initiated the practice of offering our clubs in parallel sessions. For example, one group meets on Mondays and the other meets on Wednesdays, which has enabled us to increase the number of kids who benefit from a single curriculum. If you want to get somewhere, and you don’t see the path, you make it. If you don’t see the book you need on the shelf, write it. Be the artist of your life!

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