BURLINGAME (CBS 5) – Jacob Marotta stood in front of a classroom full of his fellow high school students, explaining what their club was planning.

“We will be making cards and passing out candy for the veterans,” he told them.

When he thinks of volunteering, this 17-year-old high school senior thinks big.

“You don’t have to be from Ethiopia to help the people of Ethiopia. You don’t have to be from Mexico to help the people of Mexico. It just something you can do,” Marotta said emphatically.

As President of the Beyond Borders club at Burlingame High School, Marotta doesn’t just lead service projects that help the Bay Area’s homeless, veterans, and children.

Classmate Billy Ohlund says Marotta opened his eyes by leading a summer service trip to Ethiopia.

“Taking a group of teenagers to Africa is a pretty big deal, I would say,” Ohlund remarked. “Most of the kids we talked to in Ethiopia were orphans and really had nothing. We need to realize that before we start to complain about our lives.”

Marotta’s years of service began well before he came to Burlingame High School. It all started with his family.

“My Mom is one of the most giving people I know,” he explained.

She had the family packing food bags for the homeless, and “It sort of took off from there,” he said.

When Marotta was twelve years old, his family created a nonprofit to start a night school for women enslaved in Dessie, Ethiopia. Thanks in part to a penny drive, Marotta himself raised the first $2500 to open the school in 2007. Today, 250 students are getting an education to escape a lifetime in servitude.

“I became very close with some of the students in the fifth grade on my first trip and they’re graduating now,” Marotta remembered.

He also joined his family to build homes and work with children in Juarez, Mexico, setting up an emergency medical fund for the poor. That’s when he realized love crosses language barriers.

“Just being able to see their reaction without having a conversation with them made me realize this can take place all over the world,” said Marotta.

Students and teachers say the young man’s passion for service is contagious. School Youth Service Coordinator Sue Glick says Marotta has just the right tools.

“It’s innate,” she said. “It isn’t something he had to go out to learn. It’s part of him and this is just the beginning for him.”

The teen plans to teach, and keep reaching beyond borders to those in need.

“I really want them to know there are people behind them, there are people who support and love them,” he said.

So for spending most of his young life serving people around the world, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Jacob Marotta.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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