Zack Seiler lives in a big home in an upscale Crystal Lake neighborhood.
A world of difference separates the 19-year-old from those at the PADS homeless shelter where he volunteers.
But when they got together at the shelter, it was almost like looking in a mirror.
“There were a few times there were 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids my age,” he said. “... Just to know that I’m in such a different position than them [was shocking]. They’re less fortunate, and it saddens me that someone my age can be that out on their luck that they have to be in a homeless shelter. It really opened my eyes that not everything is in a suburban bubble.”
With vivid imagery, Seiler recalled an instance one night when a young man his own age came walking toward him.
“I noticed as he was walking, his shoes were falling apart,” Seiler said, adding that the man was wearing a T-shirt as the temperature outside was falling. “Pieces were falling out of his shoes.”
The young man – Seiler never learned his name – wore a size 12, the same size Seiler wears. PADS only had donated size 9’s.
“He took them with a smile on his face and was grateful even though he could barely cram his feet into them,” Seiler said.
Sometimes it’s small gestures that make a world of difference.
Seiler quickly went home and packed some clothing and shoes to give to his new companion.
“He was more than grateful,” Seiler recalled. “It almost brought him tears. It felt great just to help someone out during times when it seems like no one’s helping them out. “
As part of his scholarship to attend McHenry County College, Seiler must complete 15 hours of community service every semester. Sometimes he logs as many as 30 hours at the PADS site.
“I don’t look at the clock when I’m there. [I’m not] counting down the minutes until I leave,” he said. “It’s actually kind of fun.”
Typically he sets up sleeping arrangements for the area’s homeless, but Seiler he says enjoys simply interacting, making friends.
“The majority of the time I’d say I’m just a person to talk to, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on,” he said.
Seiler is finishing his second year at MCC, where he’s working toward a degree in physical therapy. He works part time at Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers in Crystal Lake.
It was a junior-year football injury that gave Seiler the drive for his future career. After a severe ankle injury during a football game, he went through months of physical therapy, only to bring himself back his senior year to become an all-conference athlete.
Because of his success on the football field, college recruiters paid close attention to him.
“I had some college offers, but I decided against it,” Seiler said. “I didn’t want anything like [my ankle injury] to happen again. I’m lucky to be walking.”
When Seiler was told he couldn’t go away to college as his older brothers had and classmates were about to, he could have pouted. He could have sulked. He could have wallowed.
But that’s not in his blood. Seiler instead applied for MCC’s Presidential Talent Scholarship.
The 2011 Crystal Lake Central graduate didn’t tell his parents that he was vying for the two years’ paid tuition scholarship, he just did it.
“He did that to help us because he figured it would be helpful,” said Rich Seiler, his father and Everyday Hero nominator.
“The fact that he did it is one thing; the fact that he got it is entirely another. “
Zack Seiler will transfer to University of Illinois at Chicago next year, and hopes his school schedule will allow time to continue volunteering.
The Zack Seiler lowdown
Who is he? MCC student, PADS volunteer
Family: Parents, Rich and Sue; brothers, Jake, 25, and Luke, 23.
Favorite sports team: The Bears.
Hobbies: Working out, playing sports, learning guitar.
Favorite Bands: The Allman Brothers Band, Dave Matthews Band.