Performing arts helps to inspire and assist children

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., May. 31, 2013
Amaryllis Rodriguez of Manchester is the founder of 'Dollars for Wishes,' a talent showcase which raises proceeds for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Photo courtesy of Catherine Fiehn Photography. - Contributed Photo

Amaryllis Rodriguez, of Manchester, did not have much when she was growing up. But during difficult times, she remembered the words of her grandmother: “Appreciate all that you have in life, for there are others who are not so fortunate.” Rodriguez took the words to heart and learned to live with deep appreciation. But she was also greatly moved by the second part, and has dedicated herself to those others who are “not so fortunate.”

Rodriguez is Miss New Haven County 2013, and will be running for the title of Miss Connecticut at the June 20-22 state pageant. She is active with many charitable organizations, not least among them is “Dollars for Wishes,” an annual talent showcase she founded and hosts. The proceeds of the event benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

She said she came up with the idea after meeting a child who was suffering from cancer. His wish was to meet the members of the New York Yankees and to attend a Yankees game. “I couldn’t sleep that night, so within two weeks I put together a fundraiser and a talent show,” she said. She found more than 30 performers to take part in it, found local sponsors and a venue in Bristol.

“We raised enough money for the child to meet his favorite players and go to the Yankees game,” she said. Two more events followed the first, and they have raised thousands of dollars for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Each year, they honor a different child whose wish they work to make a reality. “Just to see the expression on the child’s face is heartwarming, and you can’t wait to do it again,” she said.

The fourth annual Dollars for Wishes is slated for October. As the event has grown, they have outgrown several venues, and are now looking for a location, possibly in the Hartford or Manchester areas.

She is very dedicated to Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society, as well. In 2005, she lost her grandfather to cancer. She and her grandfather shared a birthday. “One of the things that the American Cancer Society promotes is celebrating more birthdays by raising money to find a cure for cancer,” she said. “Knowing that I share a birthday with my grandfather and doing this in his honor means a lot to me.” Last year her team raised more than $1,000 for Relay for Life.

Rodriguez has also worked with the Alzheimer’s Association, and has made an effort to get younger girls involved. She admires the work of the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society, and has helped them promote awareness for four years now. She was asked to sing the national anthem at a “Light the Night Walk” event, which raises money to stop these blood cancer diseases.

Rodriguez’s friend from Nova Southeastern University in Florida founded AFR Clothing, which sells apparel and donates the proceeds to educational programs in Africa. She is the national ambassador and also models the clothing lines.

Her dream is to open up her own nonprofit performing arts studio. The drive behind this idea stems from her love of performing arts and her desire to provide safe programs for children in at-risk areas.

Rodriguez was born in Hartford. She was raised in East Hartford and often visited family in New Haven. Growing up in urban areas, she often witnessed violence. “We’re constantly trying to find new programs for our youth to be involved in, to distract them from the violence,” she said. When children become involved in these programs and are given the opportunity to participate in activities that interest them, they not only are less likely to engage in dangerous behavior, they are developing their talents. This is important to Rodriguez, who wanted to develop such a talent but did not have the opportunity.

“For me, I would have loved to have gone to a performing arts school,” she said. “I know the difficulties of not being able to afford the classes, so I want kids who love performing arts just as much as I do to enjoy it without the extra costs of it.”

She has been in contact with the city of Hartford on how to fund her nonprofit, and she is continuing classes at Goodwin College on nonprofit management. “It will probably take me 10 to 16 years, but I won’t stop until I get my own performing arts studio,” she said.

Rodriguez is highly devoted to her mother and brother, Josh. While she has worked so hard to help so many people, it is her family that motivates her the most. “Everything I do, I do for them,” she said.

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