By John Lynds
Williams Rodriguez and Guadalupe Pena, both heading into their junior year in high school after this summer, have been picked as this year’s Mario Umana Fellowship in Public Service.
Rodriguez, a student at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, and Pena, a student at East Boston High School, are currently participating in the prestigious public service fellowships this summer. Rodriguez has been working for Senator Joseph Boncore, as an legislative intern, while Pena has been dealing with constituent services in City Councilor Sal LaMattina’s District 1 office.
The Fellowship, co-founded by Rep. Adrian Madaro and East Boston Neighborhood Health Center’s Ernani DeAraujo, seeks to provide to Eastie students opportunities similar to the Boston Latin School-based Ward Fellowship Program that both Madaro and DeAraujo participated in as students at the school.
“Right now I’m doing legislative work for Senator Boncore,” said Rodriguez, who came from El Salvador with his family when he was 7-years old. “I’ve been answering phones, attending hearings and meetings. Ever since I was in sixth grade, I was part of the debate team at my school, and I attended several debate championships. There was one year when we debated the issue of whether or not government should invest more in public transportation, and I just loved the topic and the different opinions so that really got me interested in politics and public service.”
Rodriguez eventually became a judge for debate championships and last summer interned at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center where he met DeAraujo for the first time. It was at the Health Center that Rodriguez got even more exposed to the intersection where policy, public service, and politics meet.
Pena has also been attending hearings and council meetings at City Hall, as well as regular community meetings in the District. She is also helping LaMattina’s office staff translate important information into Spanish for his Eastie constituency.
“I really enjoy the work a lot because it’s all about helping someone,” said Pena, whose parents immigrated from El Salvador. “That’s what really got me interested in government. I feel I needed to take the initiative to help people. I feel if you don’t take the initiative then no one will so for me that has been inspiring.”
Rodriguez said he had his sights on some day being a doctor, but really fell in love with law after meeting DeAraujo.
“Ernani (DeAraujo) works at a clinic and, as an attorney, deals with medicine, policy and law at the same time,” said Rodriguez. “I just love combining those things.”
As for Pena, she said that she’s very interested in pursuing a career in psychology.
“I think it’s a very interesting field,” she said. “But I can see myself working as a lawyer, as well.”
LaMattina said it is always a pleasure to have a Umana fellow in his office each summer.
“They are some of the brightest kids that I have ever met, and they are very eager to learn the ins and outs of city government,” said LaMattina. “I think that this is an excellent program and applaud Rep. Madaro and Ernani DeAraujo for creating opportunities like these to the youth of East Boston.”
Sen. Boncore said the Mario Umana Public Service Fellowship is an incredible program that provides high school students with the early opportunity to gain substantive experience in government and Rodriguez has been an asset to his office.
The Fellowship is in honor of the late Judge Mario Umana, a liberal Democrat who as a senator and judge inspired his family and constituents in Eastie with the philosophy that we all have an obligation and duty to contribute to the subtotal of humanity. Since 2010, his legacy has been honored in a very special way through the Mario Umana Fellowship in Public Service.
“At Boston Latin, Ernani and I experienced how an internship in government can transform a young person’s life,” said Madaro. “We wanted to give the same opportunity to kids at East Boston High.”
DeAraujo added, “The Umana Fellowship would not be possible without the support of the East Boston community. We especially want to thank our elected officials, sponsors and all those who help make the program a success.”