Firefighter who volunteers to inspire teens honored in Brownsville
It's picture day for members of the Brownsville Fire Explorers.
Or at least that's what Post 343 has been led to believe.
The photo shoot is really just a set up as part of the Pay it 4Ward surprise for a fire investigator named Joel Rodriguez.
He's the founder of the volunteer club.
"Do you have any idea why we're really here today?" Action 4's Ryan Wolf asked.
"I have no idea," Joel laughingly said. "I thought they [kids] were in school right now."
Joel started the program in 2009 as a way for the Brownsville Fire Department to give back.
The club teaches kids ages 14 to 20 life skills and helps to lay the foundation as a firefighter.
T.J. Perez is the first Explorers graduate to become a firefighter.
He wants to Pay it 4Ward.
"I just want to say thank you for everything that you do," T.J. said to Joel. "You are a valuable member to the department and all of the influence that you give us and these members here. We cherish you. And everything that has happened to me is because of you. The Explorer's program has offered me so much and because of you, I am where I am. On behalf of FNB Insurance and Action 4 News, I want to Pay it 4Ward."
T.J. handed the recipient $400 in cash as part of the weekly program.
"I'm still in shock," Joel said. "I can't believe this. It's perfect the way they did this because I had no idea this was going to happen. In this job you don't get a lot of thanks. And when you do get a thank you, it means a lot."
Hugs and handshakes from current explorers show the positive impact he's making on their lives.
Each teen congratulated Joel on his nomination.
"What can you say, I enjoy doing it," Joel said. "I love these kids. Every time we go and do something they're amazing."
But it's a former Explorer who will always have a special place in his heart.
Like most firefighters, T.J. and Joel have become like family.
Joel couldn't be more proud of his accomplishments.
"Like if a father just found out he joined the fire department," he said.
Karen Gonzalez provides the cash for kindness as a Pay it 4Ward partner with FNB Insurance agency.
"Every firefighter is deserving of the Pay it 4Ward prize because of what they do," she explained. "They put their lives on the line day after day. But here is somebody special who inspires others and that's really why FNB Insurance is so happy to help Pay it 4Ward."
Joel says he plans to use a portion of his prize to benefit the members of the Brownsville Fire Explorers Post 343.