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After several fires that affected Brentwood families, a group of Latino students rally to help

Long Island Student Advocates Group, participating in a community event.
Tu Prensa Local
Long Island Student Advocates Group, participating in a community event.

The first days of 2023 have not been easy for the Brentwood community. On January 15, a large-scale fire destroyed the home of the Parra family in seconds. It was home to five people, who, faced with the inclemency of the flames, were left with nothing. During that week, four more families in the town suffered the same fate on different dates, since four more fires broke out in the area. In the blink of an eye, their homes, along with years of effort and sacrifice, were reduced to ashes.

However, a light of hope has shone brightly, showing the victims that no fire can end love and solidarity.

The same night of January 15, when the fire broke out in the Parras' house, the news reached Brentwood High School, where one of the family members is in 10th grade. It was then that the Student Advocates of Long Island Group, created by students from different school districts in Suffolk County to give the student community a voice, decided to get down to work and join forces to help this family in distress.

The Parra's home was destroyed in a fire on Jan. 15
Tu Prensa Local
The Parra's home was destroyed in a fire on Jan. 15

“The same night they told me the story happened, we got to work. The next day we already had 15 bags to give to the family,” said Andrés Rodríguez, creator of the Student Advocates of Long Island Group. “When I found out that her house was burning down, I tried to do everything possible to help her. We helped with clothes, school supplies, cleaning things, even store gift cards. We managed to donate about 50 bags of clothes, food and household items to my friend.”

What the members of this solidarity group did not imagine was that the logistics they had created to help the Parra family was going to have to be implemented as a new work scheme, given the calamity of 4 other families.

"Five families, on different dates and everything happened during the same week. The house of those families burned down, starting on January 15," Rodríguez said. “Thanks to us and the support we have received from the community, the county and all the districts around us, we have been able to give these families a glimmer of hope.”

The student advocates quickly created an Amazon link , listing items families were in need of, and began spreading the word about their campaign via social media so anyone could donate. The living room of Andrés Rodríguez's house became a collection center, where all the donations from the community arrived and from where shipments to the affected families are coordinated. A task in which Andrés's parents, Dora Holmes and Rodrigo Rodríguez, as well as other parents, have played a fundamental role in, helping them transport the donations, since many of the students still do not drive.

The Rodríguez family house has become a kind of help center where donations from the community were organized.
Tu Prensa Local
The Rodríguez family house has become a kind of help center where donations from the community were organized.

“My friends have helped me a lot," Rodríguez said. "They all say they do it because they have a big heart and because in the end we are all the same and we can all help each other. It doesn't matter your race, it doesn't matter how much money you have, or the immigration status you have, because in the end, we are all equal”.

Andrés, a 15-year-old 10th grade student, said that what was a circumstantial response to support some families during a difficult time has become an initiative to help anyone in need. Group members meet virtually every week to learn about people's needs and coordinate response actions.

“Whenever we have a meeting, we feel very peaceful, because we not only talk about how to help the community, we also talk about how to help improve our lives and improve the lives of others,” he said.

For this young man of Colombian origin, helping others has become his lifestyle and a personal promise that he made to himself, knowing the sacrifices and difficulties that his family faced in the past.

“Every day it gives me hope to help the communities. When my family was in Colombia and when they came to the United States, they did not have the things that I have now to help. They didn't have those clothes to go to school and for me it's an honor, especially after hearing the things that my family went through, that I can help people who were at the same point that my mom and dad were." Rodriguez said.

He also dreams of becoming an ENL English teacher, English as a New Language (English as a Second Language), to continue his mission of giving a hand to others.

“Since I was born I have been in those classes, because I could not speak well and thank God two years ago I was able to get out of that program and now what I want is to help those children who have come from other countries in Central and South America and tell them that there is hope, that if they come to the United States to try to help someone, they can help themselves,” he said.

For now, the mission of the Long Island Student Advocates continues, as do the needs of the community. If you want to join and support this student group with their great work, choose and buy any of the items from the list of needs of affected families, by clicking here.

“Families usually start crying. They don't expect this from students, such a big thing for our communities. They are amazed when they see 20 or 30 bags of things for themselves from some students from the same schools where their children go. They have given me hugs and have sent me crying messages,” said Andrés. “When I see that, I say the work of our team helped. The work of our people, because we have not stopped helping our community.”

The Long Island Student Advocates group is made up of the following students:

  • Camila Penarenas
  • Odalis Pantaleon
  • Andrés Rodríguez
  • Natalie Umanzor
  • Maria Flores
  • Nancy Contreras
  • Aryana Vasquez
  • Kevin Nunez
  • Katherine Aristondo
  • Alisson Henriquez
  • Angely Gámez
  • Fabián Sánchez
  • Alexandra Antunez

All of them, true heroes of flesh and blood and a true Latino pride.

A Spanish language media outlet serving Suffolk County, New York.