A significant philanthropic achievement earned a Columbus fourth-grader the chance to be honorary sheriff for a day.
Kyria Rodriguez, 9, a student at St. Peter’s Lutheran School in Columbus, spent Friday with Sheriff Matt Myers after collecting 1,110 cans of food — more than anyone else — in the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department’s Pack-a-Patrol Car contest.
The canned goods Kyria collected were donated to the Love Chapel food pantry to help families in need.
“This is an example of a way I could give back to others,” the Hope girl said.
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Kyria said she collected canned goods by approaching her neighbors and individuals in her grandmother’s neighborhood, while collection boxes were also placed at her school, church and at Shepherd Insurance in Columbus.
In addition, Kyria also received $170 in monetary donations from individuals, which allowed her to buy 532 cans of food. Kyria’s mother, Julie Kwasniewski, said she has tried to instill giving back in all six of her children.
“They all want to help,” Kwasniewski said.
The amount of cans that Kyria collected required making repeat drop-off trips to the sheriff’s department, said Kwasniewski, who is self-employed. Her husband James is a production associate at Honda Manufacturing of Indiana in Greensburg.
Myers said the Pack-a-Patrol Car contest is a way the sheriff’s department connects with the community with individuals such as Rodriguez while supporting local organizations.
“I want to be around people that make a difference,” Myers said.
Kyria, who aspires to one day become a doctor specializing in women’s health, was full of smiles during her visit as Myers let her take the reins of his department — on an honorary basis.
She wore a sheriff’s badge as she interacted with secretaries, road deputies and jail personnel — joking with some of them as opportunities presented themselves.
“I asked if I could go home early and I was told no,” Myers said.
As part of her visit to the Bartholomew County Jail, Kyria was able to see the inmate booking area, a workout room, a food preparation/kitchen area and one of the jail towers, which provided a bird’s eye view of inmates housed at the facility.
Among Kyria’s favorite part of her day, which included lunch at Dairy Queen with Myers, was visiting with sheriff’s department employees such Chief Deputy Maj. Chris Lane.
“If you buy my lunch, I’ll let you go home at four (o’clock),” Rodriguez said with a smile.
Lane immediately recognized the girl’s outgoing personality.
“I think she’d fit right in,” Lane said.
The visit was intended as an educational experience, allowing Kyria to learn about Myers’ duties as the county’s top law enforcement officer.
“Every day, I make it a point to walk through here,” Myers said while accompanying the girl through the jail. “You control the jail. It’s your responsibility. If something bad happens, it’s on you.”
Kyria got to see an area of the jail that Myers hopes will be eventually turned into space to alleviate overcrowding and help individuals with opioid addictions. In doing so, that would create an additional 90 beds within the jail, the sheriff said.
“We’re trying to open this part of jail because we’re crowded,” Myers said.
Additionally, he wants space for a program to help jail inmates recover, he said.
Kyria, who is a straight-A student with perfect attendance at St. Peter’s, also said she enjoys being able to help others.
Her church, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, often encourages students to step up and help those around them, she said.
Recently, she played a role in helping to distribute pie during a Christmas dinner held at St. Peter’s.
“We need to give to others if they’re in need,” Kyria said.
Myers, who met Kyria during the city’s Festival of Lights parade last month, said he appreciates her efforts to help others.
“At 9 years old, to have a service heart she has, that’s unique,” Myers said. “Obviously, she cares about others and that at her age, her actions will impact people.”
Giving back to others is something that Kyria plans to continue.
Name: Kyria Rodriguez
Grade: Fourth-grade at St. Peter’s Lutheran School
Family: Parents, James and Julie Kwasniewski; siblings, Zachariah Wart, David Rodriguez, Keegan Kwasniewski, Andrew Kwasniewski and Jacob Kwasniewski
Extracurricular activities: Member of the St. Peter’s Joyful Noise Choir; dances at Sonya’s Dance Zone, where she participates in tap, ballet and jazz. Football, baseball and soccer.