With the skills and confidence garnered from her Master’s in Leadership degree, business school alumna Lily Rodriguez launched a nonprofit to educate children with autism while also volunteering to support local Cub Scouts—logging hundreds of service hours that earned her a President’s Volunteer Service Award.
When Lily Rodriguez enrolled in the University of Miami Patti and Allen Herbert Business School’s specialized graduate program in leadership she sensed there were several leadership skills that she wanted to strengthen in order to accomplish her dream of launching a school for children with autism who, like her son, need special educational support.
The faculty guidance and coursework, even the networking that linked her to new grant-writing skills, were exactly what Rodriguez, a former University of Miami employee, was seeking. Ultimately, though, it was her own courage that propelled her to face her biggest fear and speak up for her passion.
In her most important class and for her crowning program project, Rodriguez was tasked with generating a business plan. She proposed the Apollo Preparatory Program, a school for children like her 10-year-old son who is on the less severe end of the autism spectrum. Her student team loved the project and developed it. Then came the day to present the plan in class.
“I have a huge fear of public speaking—I’m massively terrified—yet I’m all about confronting the fear. So, when it came time to present, I was so passionate that I found the strength to overcome the fear and present the plan,” Rodriguez said. Her team earned an “A” for the project. Rodriguez was guided to a professor who helped her with some early grant-writing, and the dream began to roll forward.
Even while in school and developing her Apollo plan, Rodriguez was busy at her professional job and also at volunteering with Cub Scout Pack 69, where her son and five-year-old daughter are both members.
McKesson Corporation, her employer and a leading health care company, encourages its employees to volunteer in community projects and even donates financial support through an official foundation. Rodriguez’s Apollo project was certainly a model. She logged upwards of 350 service hours in support of her school project and the Cub Scouts.
Unbeknownst to her, McKesson’s foundation is also a certifying organization for the Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent agency of the United States government that promotes service and honors individuals whose service positively impacts communities.
“We were shocked,” Rodriguez remembered, when she and her husband opened the FedEx package a few weeks ago to find a letter from the White House, a certificate, and Silver Medal recognizing her as a recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
The Apollo Preparatory Program is on pause because fundraising in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic presents challenges. Rodriguez, who earned her master’s degree in 2019, wants to build a brick-and-mortar school—a very expensive project—since South Florida does not have a school for children on the less severe end of the autism spectrum. She seeks to model the school on the Autism Spectrum Disorder Nest schools she has visited in New York, where children learn together with typically developing children.
Still, Rodriguez knew accomplishing her dream was going to take several years at least. She continues to use the skills and confidence she fostered in her degree program to seek fundraising support and also in her new position as committee chair and a den leader of Cub Scout Pack 69.
“The leadership program was amazing and that class in particular taught me a ton that I needed to start my business,” she said. “And I’m a much stronger leader because of it, able to better verbalize my needs, set my budget, and to make the network connections we need.”