Center Middle Student honored for fundraising efforts

Anne Arundel County eighth-grader Victoria Marinzel is not one for the spotlight. After Gov. Martin O'Malley surprised her at a school assembly Monday with a Compassionate Marylander Award and a Governor's Citation, he asked the Central Middle School student to say a few words, and she decided that two would do.

"Thank you."

Those who know Victoria said she prefers to let her actions speak for her. They say it's no surprise that she would win such an honor, after her work raising money and awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

She was hired last summer to babysit the children of Aurora and Scott Shapleigh after Scott began suffering debilitating effects from ALS. She hadn't heard of the disease before that, and she said she was driven to help the Shapleigh family.

Instead of collecting treats during Halloween, she went door to door selling bracelets to raise funds for the Shapleighs, and then Victoria donated some of her personal savings.

"Victoria is such a special find for us," said Aurora Shapleigh. "She has been such a powerful influence on my girls. They've learned things from her that I could never teach them myself, in terms of being a passionate and loving person."

Victoria was seated several rows from the stage when O'Malley called her forward, and fellow students gave a raucous applause as she took the stage.

"It was totally unexpected; I had no idea that this was going to happen," said Victoria, who was one of five recipients of the Compassionate Marylander Award. They received a $5,000 check to be donated to the charities of their choice.

Victoria's donation will go to the Maryland chapter of the ALS Association, and she is currently making videos for YouTube to raise more funds for Shapleigh and raise awareness about the disease.

"She spent the summer with us with the kids, and is there three to four days a week during the school year," said Aurora Shapleigh. "She raised several hundred dollars that she donated to our family."

Victoria said that she sought to help the Shapleigh family "because they're good people. They didn't deserve what they got."

"It really struck me," Victoria said of learning about ALS. "It's horrible to see someone like that — just one year later, in bed, they can't talk, they don't have motion. It's horrible."

The Compassionate Marylander Award is part of the governor's "Maryland: Stronger Together" initiative; it celebrates citizens who provide for neighbors in need.

Citizens nominate themselves or others by taking part in an essay contest. CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield provides funding for the Compassionate Marylander Award.

The other honorees were Caitlyn McSorley, a McDaniel College student who volunteers with Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding; the Rev. Robert Hahn, senior pastor of Chesapeake Church, who led the establishment of End Hunger in Calvert County; Amy Pucino, a mentor with Baltimore City Community College's Refugee Youth Project; and Heather Harvison, executive director and founder of My Sister's Circle, a mentoring and outreach group for girls in Baltimore.

"Back around Thanksgiving time," said O'Malley, "we decided that given all of the good people throughout our state that had given volunteer hours, who had worked in soup kitchens or working in schools or helping their neighbors, that we needed to hold up their important work. It's some of the most important work that happens in our state."

Victoria was nominated for the award by her neighbor, June Dwyer. The award winners, all of whom had been notified earlier, also took part in Monday's ceremony.

Crystal Marinzel, Victoria's mother, said that keeping the news secret from Victoria came down to one directive.

"We didn't tell her 11-year-old sister Lindsey," said Crystal Marinzel, who added, "It's a very proud moment. Victoria has always had that compassion. Starting in elementary school, she would go out of her way to be kind to those kids that were left out or being made fun of or had a difficult home life."

Anne Arundel school board President Patricia Nalley said that she was principal at Davidsonville Elementary when Victoria attended.

"The Marinzel family is the kind of family that really builds this compassion. They have that family desire," said Nalley. "This is a family that really knows the importance of making a difference."

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