Merced County Times Newspaper
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Planada advocate Rodriguez named ‘Woman of the Year’

Alicia Rodriguez
Alicia Rodriguez

Assemblymember Adam Gray announced Monday that long-time Planada volunteer and advocate Alicia Rodriguez is being honored as the Assembly District 21 Woman of the Year.

“Alicia is a force of nature,” said Assemblymember Gray. “There’s no one like her, which is too bad because we need about a hundred more Alicia Rodriguezes. I have been inspired by her unstoppable energy, her determination and her faith.”

Due to pandemic precautions, the annual recognition was done virtually Monday at the Capitol. Normally, recipients are invited to Sacramento for the presentation.

Rodriguez became active in Planada through Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where she helped reinvigorate the St. Vince de Paul Society more than 20 years ago. After helping many parishioners secure basic necessities, Rodriguez soon added new roles.

Through her work on the Planada Municipal Advisory Council and Youth Activities Board, Rodriguez helped make Houlihan Park a more welcoming and safer place for families. She worked to get a four-way stop at the intersection of Highway 140 and Plainsburg Road. In her work with the Planada Elementary School District, Rodriguez helped develop a lending library for children who had few books in their homes. She is also on the steering committee for Building Healthy Communities.

When the state requested families to shelter in place as Covid-19 was spreading, she led the organization of the Planada Community Food Bank which provided meals for 1,500 households. As in all her efforts, Rodriguez is quick to point out those who helped with the project – the California Endowment, Sacred Heart, AT&T and the Merced County Human Services Agency.

More recently, she has been trying to help families cope with the loss of loved ones. She recounted a trip to deliver food to the home of a young family whose mother had succumbed in late February.

“These people were so full of tears,” said Rodriguez. “I really wanted to give them a hug; they had just lost their family member. But we couldn’t even go into their house. We had to put all our stuff down and then walk away.

“If this award means more people will see me as someone who can help, then I am grateful.”

Such self-sacrifice, dedication and devotion to those who have less drove Assemblymember Gray to honor Rodriguez.

“Even when government is doing the right thing and trying to help, it can’t do it alone,” said Gray. “We need people in our cities and towns who are willing to do the hard work of creating community. That’s what Alicia does.”

Each year, Rodriguez’s happiest project is the Planada Christmas Celebration. She helps find then wrap new gifts for some 300 Planada children, who receive them directly from Santa. She began the program in 2003 with help from students, the CHP, United Way, businesses and elected officials.

Last year, Rodriguez was among the first recipients of the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, with Jerome Raspberry and Marilyn Mochel. She was also recognized by Assemblyman Gray as one of the county’s outstanding volunteers. In 2016 she was recognized as the Outstanding Volunteer in Merced County Supervisorial District 1 by John Pedrozo and in 2011 was named Woman of the Year by the Hispanic Chamber.

Rodriguez and her husband Larry live in Planada where they raised their children, Irene and Larry Jr.

She joins a long list of notable women honored by Assemblymember Gray as Woman of the Year, including: Laura Elkington in 2020, Mireya Aguila in 2019 and Lillian Roberts in 2018. For a complete list of previous 21st District Women of the Year, or information on the program, visit

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