The lives of two young students connected to the Northeast San Fernando Valley have been memorialized with scholarship funds.
The City of San Fernando’s Education Commission, overseen by Mayor Sylvia Ballin, held its second annual scholarship awards ceremony this week.
The scholarship fund began last year in the name of Gabriel Fernandez , the 8- year- old victim of heinous child abuse. Pearl Fernandez, Gabriel’s mother and her live in boyfriend are awaiting trial. The social workers accused of neglecting to protect the child will also stand trial and are expected back in court on July 8.
During his young life, before his mother took custody of him, Fernandez lived with his grandparents in the northeast valley.
This year, the scholarship fund expanded to include the name of 14-year-old Eli Rodriguez, a much loved student at Cesar Chavez Academy for Science Exploration (ASE). Rodriguez went missing after school during a powerful rainstorm last February. Eli’s body was found many days later in the L.A. River, miles from his school in San Fernando. Thousands of people walked from his school to the Pacoima Wash in a candlelight vigil.
Both tragic losses tremendously impacted the local community and have engaged major discussions about child safety, prevention and the responsibility of government and public policy. The urgency to improve the Department of Family and Children’s Services and the need for more safeguards at the Pacoima Wash and the LA River, have been discussed since their deaths.
The homespun awards ceremony held at Las Palmas Park was very important for those who were there, especially for the relatives of both Rodriguez and Fernandez.
Emily Carranza who has been involved in seeking justice for her cousin, congratulated the students. She appreciated that the scholarship has served to keep his memory alive by supporting the dreams of other young people.
“We don’t know what he would have grown up to become,” Carranza said. “My cousin Gabriel was a very sweet young boy who should have never been put through cruelty and suffering.”
When Carranza speaks about her cousin she often refers to him as “our angel.” Similarly, the family of “Eli” Rodriguez, leaning on their faith, also does the same.
Angie Jensen, Cachon Assistant Principal for ASE, addressed the scholarship winners. She described how much Eli, always seen with a smile and a positive word, was loved by his fellow students and they spoke of the loss they felt. But she encouraged the winners to use this scholarship to “do some good.”
The students were awarded their scholarships based on written essays.
Eli’s mother who found it too difficult to speak, but helped to hand out the awards and took photos with the students, who each gave her a big hug.
“I think being able to keep his name alive and give back to the community from ‘Eli,’ especially for the students who attend his school that were affected, this is very meaningful to all of us,” said Jessenia Vega, Eli’s aunt.
Vega said Eli’s mother has expressed that as long as she is alive she will continue to contribute to her son’s scholarship fund.
“Watching his classmates receive scholarships in his name was emotional and at the same time it was nice to read their essays and to see how smart they are. I believe they have a very bright future ahead of them,” Vega said.