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.
Marine Corps Cpl. Andrew Y. Zheng, a saxophone player with the 2nd Marine Division Band and a 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,” he said.
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,” he explained. He compared the concept to 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,” he said. “I’m just trying to initiate that spark.”
Zheng said 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,” he said. “From there, I started focusing on volunteer work with United Way.”
Marine Corps Cpl. Evan Laderer -- also a saxophone player with the 2nd Marine Division Band, is Zheng’s roommate and a Slippery Rock, Pa. native -- has known Zheng for about two years. He said 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,” Laderer said. “He volunteers for one thing, and just goes strong. He communicates with those individuals that need that help and gives as much time as he can to volunteering.”
Zheng said he doesn’t volunteer just for his own satisfaction; 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,” he said. “They can find fulfillment and a sense of honor in what they do and who they are by contributing to the community.”
Zheng said he tries to model himself after his life-mentor, who initiated the service spark for him when he was a boy.
“I’d say I do what I do because of my life-mentor,” he said. “Since I was 6 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 Zheng’s volunteer work really matters to his fellow Marines and people in the community.
“It’s definitely making a big difference to the Marines that he helps,” he said. “It brightens their day, and that’s mission accomplishment, I would say.”
Zheng said his volunteer work won’t end after he leaves the Marine Corps.
“My future goal is to open up a community center,” he added. “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 offered some advice for those he hopes to inspire.
“Live your life as if someone were narrating it ... and ask yourself if you would be proud about what they said.”