Yolanda Benitez and Dave Rodriguez sit outside their Camarillo home.By Pamela Dean

The passion that longtime CSUCI supporters Yolanda Benitez and Dave Rodriguez have for community service and helping others to get ahead stems from their own humble beginnings.

Benitez was a first-generation college student who grew up living in her aunt’s El Monte garage with her mother and brother. Her mother worked picking strawberries and lemons in Ventura County in the summer and cleaned houses in Los Angeles the rest of the year. 

After graduating from college, Benitez began her career as an English and English-as-a-second-language high school teacher and worked her way up to superintendent of the Rio School District. She finished her career as the chief academic officer for the Los Angeles County Office of Education. 

Rodriguez has spent almost 40 years in various leadership positions with the League of United Latin American Citizens. Through that association, he became an advocate for CSUCI during its early days, often traveling to Sacramento with former President Richard Rush to lobby for increased funding for the CSU. 

The Camarillo couple recently decided to make a generous planned gift to CSUCI for scholarships benefiting first-generation college students with ties to working in the agricultural fields.

“We both knew that with all that we have gone through, we wanted to give young people a helping hand,” Benitez said. “College was the door out of poverty for me and my family. It opened up the world of possibility and I knew it could do the same for others. The scholarships we have established will open that door for other young people who can help better the world.”

The scholarships can be used for any education-related expense. They can be used for tuition, housing, books, gas, babysitting, food, or for any other financial need that students are experiencing. Benitez and Rodriguez feel strongly that the recipients should decide how the funds can best help them. 

“If we can help them with that, then we’ve done what we wanted to do in this world,” Benitez added.
 Although they could donate to other universities or institutions, Benitez and Rodriguez are enthusiastic about supporting CSUCI, in particular.

“We felt that this was our University and these are our kids. A lot of students that I have known as an administrator will come through this system,” Benitez said. “What better way to give a helping hand than to give to this University and to these young people who are part of our community? It’s making the full circle.”

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© Winter 2023 / Volume 27 / Number 2 / Biannual

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