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R-C Unsung Hero: 2nd grade teacher always willing to go an extra step

by Nancy Hamlett

When you meet Christine Jezek, the last thing that comes to mind is a hero. She is a petite young woman who always greets her students at Pinon Hills Elementary School with a smile on her face. She can’t jump over tall buildings. She can’t race a speeding bullet.

What Jezek can do is quietly decide to make a difference in somebody’s life, and then do it.

Jezek’s day job is teaching second grade at Pinon Hills Elementary School.

“Chris is a very professional and caring teacher,” said Pinon Hills Elementary School principal, Nancy Bryant. “She is always willing to do whatever it takes to help her students be successful. She also shows an interest and helps students outside of her classroom.”

According to Jezek, that sometimes means one-on-one attention with her students. “Even if a child has supportive and loving parents, I just don’t think there is ever enough encouragement or love,” said Jezek. “I go to T-ball and soccer games, plays and recitals. Children need to know that what they do is important.”

Jezek and two other teachers at Pinon Hills have recently formed a Creative Arts Club. Each session of the club meets once a week after school for seven weeks. The purpose of the club is to introduce as many students as possible to different aspects of the arts. The teachers have scheduled three sessions this year.

“Many children wouldn’t have the chance to be exposed to the arts without this club,” said Jezek. “The other two teachers (Catherine Pellegrino and Sue Pike) studied Creative Arts to get their master’s degrees. This is a wonderful way to share their knowledge with the children.”

n Second life. But Jezek has a second life, one that has nothing to do with teaching and schools. She and her husband, Todd, are volunteers at the City of Refuge, a home built by Dave and Diane Gamble for pregnant women.

“When I first met Chrissie, she had just lost a child for the third time,” said Diane Gamble, the inspiration and hard work behind the City of Refuge.

“We were still building the home, and I don’t really think Chris knew what to make of it. But she became enthused about the project and she and her husband, Todd, wanted to become involved in some way.”

The Jezeks became “weekend warriors,” dedicated volunteers who give up their weekends to stay at the home and assume the responsibilities so that the Gambles can have a much-needed break.

“Weekend warriors arrive at 5 p.m. on Friday, and don’t leave until 5 p.m. on Sunday,” said Gamble. “They just move in. And all of the moms can’t wait until the Jezeks come. They bring pizza, they plan activities for the moms. It’s just like having friends over when they come.”

Jezek smiled when she heard Gamble’s assessment. “I guess we do plan a few things for the weekend. We’ve gone to ‘The Sound of Music’ and Genoa Craft Fair. Whatever is going on in the community, Todd and I try to take them. Or sometimes we’ll play games and cards, or watch videos. We all have fun.”

n Basket of love. According to Gamble, Jezek does more than provide fun for the moms at the refuge. She puts together baby care packages, filled with new items for the immediate needs of the newborn infants. Diapers, wipes, nightgowns, and blankets, Jezek makes sure each baby receives a basket of love when they arrive.

“It’s a simple basket,” said Jezek. “But what it holds is so important to the mothers. We love used donations at the refuge, but this is one time we want everything to be new. It makes the mother feel special. And if the child is placed for adoption, the basket goes to the adoptive family, sort of like a gift from the birth mother.”

Chris and her mother-in-law, Patti Woods, make the flannel blankets and burp cloths for the baskets. Women at the Carson Valley Community Church donate the rest of the items.

“Maybe they should be the unsung heroes,” said Jezek. “Other churches have indicated that they would like to help as well, but so far these women have carried the responsibility. They are wonderful.”

According to Gamble, Jezek also maintains a Creative Memories scrapbook for the refuge, and during November, when school is off track, she will be organizing craft classes for the moms.

“But Todd is the one who spoils the girls,” said Jezek. “He makes biscuits and gravy, or whatever they want in the morning. As a matter of fact, whatever their whim, he’ll do it for them.”

Jezek said that she and her husband help at the City of Refuge because they believe that it is important that the women know that there are options other than abortion for an unplanned pregnancy.

“That’s why we got involved, and why we continue,” said Jezek. “We value the well-being of these women and children. And working at the refuge has been a healing process for me. After Todd and I lost our child, I didn’t want to be bitter, I wanted to make it better. And I have found that by helping others it has helped me heal, and taken away the bitterness after the loss.”

n Special blessing. The Jezeks were blessed for some of their kindness when one of the mothers at the refuge came to the grave conclusion that she just wasn’t prepared or able to care for her baby when he was born. After meeting the Jezeks during one of their weekend stays, the mother offered her baby to them for adoption. At first the Jezeks were hesitant. They still held onto so much sorrow after the loss of their third child.

But then Chris realized the bravery of the mother for making the offer and she and Todd knew that it was the right decision. Seth Jezek is now eight months old. And he spends weekends at the City of Refuge with Chris and Todd.

“A lot of the mothers are shocked that I love someone else’s baby as much as I do,” said Jezek with tears of joy in her eyes. “It’s so healthy for them to see how much we love Seth. And to see a family interacting in a positive way.”

And at the refuge, no one ever puts pressure on a mother to change her mind about keeping the baby, or allowing the child to be adopted. Seeing Seth makes them realize that adoption is a positive choice for them.

According to Gamble, Chris and Todd are a major part of the refuge.”I would have a big hole if Chris wasn’t here,” said Gamble. “She was sent as a little angel for us.”

Sue Pike, who has been Jezek’s close friend for the past six years, said that Chris always goes the extra step.

“Not for the recognition,” said Pike. “But for the kids. And at the City of Refuge, for the girls. She is that classic wind beneath the wings thing. She is content to be behind the scenes, making life better for everyone.”

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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