This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A story leaps to mind for Cynthia Rodriguez of her daughter, Dani, finding $30 on the ground at a market near their Downey, Calif., home.
To a third-grader, that's a fortune, so she kept the cash close. But the next day at the same market, a woman was begging for money.
Dani, in her youthful wisdom, gave her fortune away.
"I asked her why she gave the money to that woman, and she said, 'I found it it, and I didn't need it,' " Cynthia recalled of their conversation afterward. " 'She needed it more than I did.' "
As a senior point guard, Danielle Rodriguez's capacity to give to others is tallied up: She's dished out 429 assists in her career, the fifth-most in school history. But many of her good works off the court are being brought to light as she's one of 10 women's basketball players named to the AllState WBCA Good Works Team, which highlights the community service of student-athletes.
Cynthia said the first time she knew of many of Danielle's community service activities was reading the Good Works Team press release. She's been a volunteer for several elementary and middle school classes; helped organize drives to feed Salt Lake's homeless and buy gifts for Salt Lake's needy children at Christmas; and worked on a service that walks dogs for elderly people when sidewalks are icy.
"I just read it and said to myself, 'Oh my goodness, this child,' " Cynthia said. "Where did she find all the time to do this?"
While the recognition is understandably a thrill for Dani, who is the first Ute to make the Good Works team, it's not why she does it. She's as comfortable giving under the lights of the Huntsman Center as she is when no one is watching.
One of her oldest traditions began her freshman year: She, along with men's basketball players Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker and some other athletes would make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches at then-Utes guard Jared DuBois's apartment and distribute them to lunch-seeking homeless people at Liberty Park.
"I've kind of built like a second home here in Salt Lake, and I want to give back to the community," she said. "Honestly, if I can take 20 to 30 minutes out of my day to help someone else with something small and simple, why not do that?"
That lesson was rooted in Dani's childhood. Her parents told her that her smile could turn a stranger's day around for the better, which she took to heart.
Teammates and others close to her describe her as overwhelmingly positive and upbeat, tackling challenges with enthusiasm.
But Rodriguez is also fearlessly hands-on: Hillside Middle School teacher Alyson Hill, who is Utah athletic director Chris Hill's daughter, has seen Rodriguez communicate with and charm students in her special education class. Faced with students with neurological issues to physical disabilities, Rodriguez thrives during the Friday afternoons when she is able to volunteer in the offseason.
"It's like she's a magnet around the kids," Hill said. "She keeps them engaged, and you can really see that she really has a lot of passion to connect with them. Nothing frightens her: She's not afraid to jump in and get dirty with the kids."
Rodriguez's leap-in approach has also served her well in Habitat for Humanity, when she built a house in West Jordan with other members of the basketball team. She spends time doing basketball clinics for the Utah Flash club program, as well as the West High School girls' basketball team.
When there's no infrastructure, Rodriguez also does good on her own: She's made a habit of collecting the team's untouched leftovers from pre-game dinners, and bringing them down to Pioneer or Liberty Park. She's helped get other Ute teams to be conscious about their leftovers as well.
"It just gives me anxiety to see all that food out there uneaten," she said. "I'm not going to say I've never wasted food, but I really hate seeing that stuff thrown away. And that's something every college sports team does, and every one of them could do that little thing to help."
Beyond her basketball career, Rodriguez said she wants to go into sports marketing a combination of two passions in her life. But recently talking to her mom about her dream job if she won the lottery, Rodriguez said she'd get her teaching certificate and be a basketball coach.
Wherever her plans lead, it seems inevitable that a trail of good works will follow her. And whether that means getting an award or simply serving others while no one else is watching, those around her say they're excited to see what's next.
"You have such a platform as a student-athlete to make a difference, especially at a place like Utah," coach Lynne Roberts said. "Dani is someone who has really bought into that, but it didn't just start when she got to Utah. She has an amazing family and she was raised to think about others and care about others. … For us to have someone like that wearing the Utah jersey representing us in this community is really, really cool."
Utes host Senior Day vs. Stanford
In Sunday's game, with a 2 p.m. tipoff, the Utes will honor three seniors who will be playing their final home game:
Dani Rodriguez • Fifth in school history with 429 assists; started 121 of 122 games; leads Utah with 1.3 steals per game; first-ever Ute on AllState WBCA Good Works Team.
Katie Kuklok • Fifth in the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage at 42.6 percent; set career-high of 22 points in January win over Cal; San Diego CIF record-holder in 3-point percentage and FT percentage.
Nakia Arquette • Appeared in 29 games last year in only season not ended by injury; graduating early to focus on teaching.