MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- It all started with a note and a piece of candy taped to a barracks room door. The note read, “Pay it forward,” and told the reader to contact the person who put it there if they ever needed anything. It was a small token of kindness with a huge meaning behind it; to do things for other people.
Corporal Andrew Y. Zheng, a saxophone player with the 2nd Marine Division Band and St. Louis native, is the man behind this message.
Zheng went around to 500 barracks rooms and gave candy to all of the Marines who were staying at the barracks instead of leaving for the Fourth of July weekend.
“On July 4th, I just thought I would do something nice for people, hoping that I raised their spirits to want to do something for other people as well,” said Zheng.
Zheng called this concept ‘pay it forward’.
“That’s just a concept that I learned in high school, that when you do a good thing for somebody, they do good things for other people,” said Zheng.
Zheng said that it’s like a chain reaction.
“A lot of people want to do good stuff, but until somebody comes to them and really helps them, or shows them that people really are doing good stuff, they won’t,” said Zheng. “I’m just trying to initiate that spark.”
Zheng said that he has been doing volunteer work since high school, and it has carried him throughout his Marine Corps career.
“In order to get used to this area, I did a lot of volunteering through the Single Marine Program to try to network with people and find what kind of volunteer work I enjoy doing,” said Zheng. “From there I started focusing on volunteer work with United Way.”
Corporal Evan Laderer, also a saxophone player with the 2nd Marine Division Band, Zheng’s roommate and Slippery Rock, Pa. native, said that he’s known Zheng for about two years now.
Laderer said that Zheng definitely cares about the Marines in the unit, and that he finds satisfaction and fulfillment in volunteering.
“In the time that I’ve known Andrew he has probably put in anywhere from 200 to 300 hours of volunteer service,” said Laderer.
“He volunteers for one thing and just goes strong,” said Laderer. “He communicates with those individuals that need that help and gives as much time as he can to volunteering.”
Zheng said that he doesn’t volunteer just for his own personal satisfaction, but by volunteering, he hopes he is setting an example.
“I’m helping to show my peers and subordinates what more they can achieve and aspire to be,” said Zheng. “They can find fulfillment and a sense of honor in what they do and who they are by contributing to the community.”
Zheng said that going around and helping out other people isn’t very popular anymore, and by setting an example he hopes to inspire others to service.
“Small tokens of kindness are missing in the mentality of, not just Marines, but people in general,” said Zheng. “However, I hope by setting the example I am able to get the message across that through aspiring goals and ambitious dedication, [people] can accomplish whatever it is they put their minds to.”
Zheng said that he tries to mirror himself after his life-mentor, who initiated the service spark for him when he was little.
“I’d say I do what I do because of my life-mentor,” said Zheng. “Since I was six years old I had this private teacher who basically inspired me to become like him. He went around the community in bad neighborhoods and showed them what more they can do in their lives, and where they can get to if they just put in a little bit of effort.”
Laderer said that all of the volunteer work that Zheng does for the Marines and the local community really matters to them.
“It’s definitely making a big difference to the Marines that he helps,” said Laderer. “It brightens their day and that’s mission accomplishment I would say.”
Zheng said that his volunteer work will be a long-term thing and won’t just end after he’s done with the Marine Corps.
“My future goal is to open up a community center,” said Zheng. “Everything I do, whether it is volunteer service or something else, is in preparation to create the best atmosphere and center that I can.”
Zheng also said that by doing all of his volunteer service beforehand he gets an idea of what people need, what the community lacks, what people are really interested in and what works and what doesn’t.
Zheng said that Marines can look forward to him hosting the Guinness Book of World Records challenge for the longest squad push-up through the Single Marine Program sometime in September.
Zheng had one last bit of advice for others that he is hoping to inspire;
“Live your life as if someone were narrating it – [narrating] what you did throughout the day, and ask yourself if you would be proud about what they said.”