Palos Heights teen a volunteer force
BY CHERYL DANGEL BARTOLINI Correspondent June 29, 2012 11:26AM
Samantha Ziola-Vega poses with items from the science lab at Shepard High School in Palos Heights. She was involved in helping to develop a health curriculum for the schools. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 3, 2012 6:07AM
Samantha Ziola-Vega has a need to help others.
The track record she compiled at Shepard High School in Palos Heights indicates she put a lot of time in to do just that.
Ziola-Vega twice earned the Cook County Sheriff’s Youth Medal of Honor, which recognizes high school students who earn at least 100 hours of community service in a year’s time. She received the award two years in a row, for volunteering she did in 2010 and 2011.
She also was Shepard’s 2011 recipient of the Wendy’s High School Heisman, which honors students who volunteer and are involved in athletics. Ziola-Vega was an all-conference volleyball player.
She has volunteered for a number of causes, most notably working at the information desk at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, four hours a week for the past two years.
“I really like the people I volunteer with, and everyone is super nice. I also like being able to talk with all the visitors who come in,” Ziola-Vega said.
But there’s more. Before she graduated in May from Shepard, she was a member of the school’s Key Club and Leo Club, both service organizations.
“I like all the different activities and different volunteer options that we have. I like volunteering because I like to help people in different ways and give them direction. It can mean the most to some people,” she said.
Ziola-Vega helped local youths, as well. She coached two seventh-grade volleyball teams at St. Alexander School, a Catholic elementary school in Palos Heights, and helped out at the annual cancer awareness fundraiser, Relay for Life.
It was Relay for Life that sparked her original interest in volunteerism.
“Community service has always been important to me, but I started with Relay for Life when my aunt was battling breast cancer. I really liked the idea of helping people, so I branched out into other options,” Ziola-Vega said.
At Shepard, Ziola-Vega also was a leader on the teen staff for Operation Snowball, vice president of her senior class and a member of the National Honor Society.
She performed well academically, as well, earning Honors with Distinction, the highest academic honor a student can receive at Shepard.
Ziola-Vega, 18, the daughter of Mary and Oscar Ziola-Vega, of Palos Heights, received a scholarship to play volleyball at Minot State University in Minot, N.D. She wants to major in biology so she can become a physicians assistant.
“I knew I wanted to do something medical,” she said. “Originally, I wanted to be an athletic trainer. But now, if I major in biology, I can go wherever I want and go into anything after college.”
Ziola-Vega said she considers her mother to be her mentor.
“She pushes me the most to do my best and encourages me in everything I do,” she said. “She backs me up with all my decisions.”