On her 13th birthday, Jeazelle Marquez, like any other teen, wanted gifts — lots of them. But unlike most, she didn’t want the gifts for herself. Instead, she asked all of her friends to donate gifts to the Children’s Hospital in Oakland.
“It’s always noble to give back to the community and reach out to others in need,” said Jeazelle, now 14.
It’s that caring spirit that has driven the bubbly teen to spend 119 hours giving back to her community over the last year, earning her not just local recognition but honors from President Barack Obama.
During her graduation last Thursday from Holy Spirit School in Fremont, the Union City teen was awarded with the President’s Volunteer Service Award, along with a certificate from the President’s Education Award Program for outstanding academic achievement.
“I was kind of shocked,” Jeazelle said about receiving the awards from the president’s office. “I knew it was coming, but to see the actual certificate was — ‘Oh my gosh!’”
At 14, Jeazelle has already developed a tireless work ethic and compiled a growing list of accomplishments.
When she’s not cramming for school, Jeazelle also does ballet Monday through Thursday every night for two hours, while squeezing in piano lessons on Wednesdays. She’s also an altar server and a Safety Patrol captain at Holy Spirit. If that didn’t keep her busy enough, she dedicates her weekends and vacation time to doing community service.
Instead of kicking back with friends this spring break, Jeazelle told her mom she wanted to do something meaningful with her time.
She volunteered with LIFE ElderCare’s Meals on Wheels program and the Alameda County Community Food Bank, spending the rest of her time collecting donations for Union City’s Youth and Family Services to help with their last month.
She raised $200 by herself for the Youth and Family Services event, which the organization wasn’t expecting.
“That was just amazing,” said Youth and Family Services’ lead outreach worker John Cabrera after the tournament. “It came in real handy. We almost didn’t have enough money to kick this thing off.”
“It’s people like [Jeazelle] that help make this community a better place to live and thrive,” said Youth and Family Services Program Manager Patricia Abadesco.
Jeazelle credits her mother, Janette Marquez, for pushing her to be more active in her community.
“I’m really glad that she pushed me,” Jeazelle said. “I learned that I love to volunteer. I love to make people’s day and see their smiling faces.”
Janette has been a longtime local volunteer. She starting bringing Jeazelle to volunteer with the Meals on Wheels program three years ago to teach her about compassion.
“A lot of parents are focused on academics but, for me, compassion is more important,” said Janette, a local realtor. “Compassion is key to becoming a better person. At the end of the day what have you done, not just for yourself, but reaching out to people and having an impact on their lives?”
“You can be so successful in life, but without compassion, you’ll feel empty,” Janette said.
Like mother, like daughter. Jeazelle said she was hooked after helping deliver meals to seniors and helping sort groceries for visitors at the Alameda County Food Bank.
“I felt like I was a life-changer person,” Jeazelle said with a beaming smile.
While she hasn’t quite decided what she wants to be when she’s older, she knows for certain that she wants to continue to help others.
Though May was a busy month for Jeazelle — she had a piano recital, ballet performance and graduation — don’t think for a second that Jeazelle will be taking a break.
This summer, Jeazelle is going to Puerto Rico with her parents to volunteer at an orphanage through faith-based nonprofit Amor en Accion.
Jeazelle wouldn’t want to spend her summer vacation any other way.
“It’s wonderful to recognize that I made someone’s life easier and I made a difference in their life,” she said.