Wheaton Warrenville South athlete honored for off-field efforts
Jackson Moran received quite a surprise Sunday.
Thinking he was going to a celebration of fellow Wheaton Warrenville South High School athletes at Stadium Field, the 18-year-old senior and soccer player instead found that he was being honored for his volunteerism on behalf of the poorest area in the United States.
With parents, coaches, teachers and nearly 50 of his peers on hand, Moran received honors from Buddy's HELPERS, a nonprofit organization devoted to student-athletes who make a difference off the field.
Moran, who plans to begin his studies in mechanical engineering this fall and play soccer at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. earned a 3.75 GPA and attained all-academic honors all four years at Wheaton Warrenville South.
But he went beyond his academic and athletic achievements in his work with the Re-Member organization. Re-Member partners with the Oglala Lakota people to assist those living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Moran has been visiting Pine Ridge since he was 12, but when the reservation was closed to outsiders last summer because of COVID-19, he found another way to help -- he raised more than $5,000 by biking 100 miles in a loop around his neighborhood.
He solicited donations from family and friends, went door to door throughout Wheaton passing out flyers about his "Ride to Nowhere" and set up a GoFundMe account for donations.
All of the money went directly to Re-Member to support their food and winter heat programs. He also collected used books, travel-size toiletries and other items for Pine Ridge.
Moran said he first traveled to Pine Ridge when his uncle and aunt, David and Jenny Kirkby of Bartlett, invited him to join them on a visit there.
"It's truly a unique experience," he said. "I've met a lot of amazing people out there, people that I will remember for the rest of my life. It's truly a different world out there compared to here in Wheaton."
Moran said the unemployment rate at Pine Ridge is about 90%. People live in trailers without running water or electricity.
"We skirted trailers, dug holes for outhouses, since there's no plumbing. We built the outhouses. We built bunk beds, because a lot of families only have one bed, maybe two for the whole family. We built wheelchair ramps," he said.
The experience, he said, has made him more grateful for what he has. He hopes to go back when things reopen.
In addition to volunteering, Moran said he has learned from the Lakota people and their traditions.
"I learned what isn't taught in history books," he said.
Presenting him Sunday with the honors -- which included a check and a gift from Samsung -- were previous award winners Faith Davies from Glenbard East High School, Jonny Rodriguez from Thornton High School and Emely Oviedo from Bloom High School.
Also there was teammate Brian Tunney.
"I think it's important to support him. He has done a lot of good for the community," he said.
"He's just a kid that works for something greater than himself," Wheaton Warrenville South soccer coach Guy Callipari added. "He sees a need for helping others and strives to do that in every capacity."