Even small acts make a big difference. Just ask anyone who knew this firefighter.
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Capt. Mark Lee, a New Jersey firefighter for nearly 30 years, lived his whole life helping and serving others.

He wanted to do more than his "job."

He wanted to keep helping, even after the fires were put out.


Lee and some of his fellow firefighters in 1987. All images via Cheryl Lee, used with permission.

If a family in the community lost all their belongings in a fire, Mark would come back later to hand-deliver clothes, toothbrushes, and anything else they might need.

"He was also a roofer," his wife, Cheryl, said. "So if someone had a fire in their house and he had worked that fire, the next day he would get back in his truck and go repair their roof for them so they would be able to go back home."

Mark wanted to be there for his neighborhood. "If you had something going on, he would just sit on the front bench of the firehouse, just sit down and talk to people," said Carina Escolastico, who lives across the street from the firehouse. "He always had a smile for everybody. It was motivating to have him around you because he would just bring positive energy."

When people were injured in a fire, Mark would visit them in the hospital, and if they died, he would attend their funerals.

Lee and some of his fellow firefighters outside the fire station during the Jersey City Fire Department toy drive in the 1990s.

"He just took care of the community all of the time," Cheryl said.

Mark would even spring into action on family vacations if help was needed. In Mexico, he rescued five men from drowning after they got caught in a riptide.

But in his community, he was especially driven to help the children.

When he first became a fireman, Cheryl said, he started a new tradition for the kids in his neighborhood: free ice cream. "Every Friday payday, he bought the whole neighborhood ice cream. And I would say, 'Honey, you just got the paycheck,' and he would just say to me, 'But the kids are waiting for their ice cream.'"

Lee wrapping gifts for the toy drive.

Mark also helped build playgrounds in the neighborhood, worked with the Special Olympics, and, for 27 years, led the Jersey City Fire Department’s annual toy drive so that he could make sure that no child was without a present for the holidays.

"[The toy drive] just kept getting bigger and bigger every year," remembered retired firefighter Thomas Facciola, who worked alongside Mark at the firehouse for about 20 years. "It was almost like a yearlong thing because he would keep adding people. ... He would go to all the churches and schools, to all the projects, just to add more kids to the list."

Carina said she will never forget when Mark delivered toys to her daughter as part of the Christmas drive. In 2009, she had given birth to baby girl diagnosed with health issues and brain damage, and as a new single mother alone for the holidays, Carina said she felt down and a little depressed. But Mark brought her new family cheer.  

"He just knocked on my door and said 'Merry Christmas,' and he gave [my daughter] her first toys and stuff," she recalled. "He brought a lot of joy to me and my baby at that time. ... He brought tears to my eyes."

On 9/11, Mark was one of the first responders.

Lee and other first responders at Ground Zero.

Mark had worked a 24-hour shift the day before 9/11, and he had planned to take the next day off, Cheryl said, but as soon as he heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, he headed straight into the city.

And he stayed at the site for seven straight days.

"He ate there and slept there. ... He did search-and-rescue, he worked on the bucket line," Cheryl explained. "He came home, and he had a very bad cough, you know."

Lee and other first responders at Ground Zero.

Years later, Mark began to develop a series of chronic illnesses associated with his efforts at Ground Zero.

Mark worked as long as he could, both in the line of duty and through his volunteer causes, until he was too sick to continue.

"He went into the hospital in January [2014], and they said he couldn’t work anymore, but he said to me, 'I’m going back, I’m going back,'" Cheryl remembered. "And he told the doctors. He told everybody, 'I can do this. I can do this,' but in reality, he really couldn’t."

Mark died at the age of 54 on May 9, 2014. Even in death, he helped others by being an organ donor — donating his corneas and skin for burn victims.

Cheryl Lee and one of the Engine 10 firetrucks dedicated in memory of her husband.

Before he died, Mark's family made him a promise that they would continue his work for him in his memory. And they are doing just that.

Cheryl now volunteers with a number of local community organizations, including the toy drive, which they have renamed the Capt. Mark Lee Christmas Fund Drive in his memory.

The Lees and others at the 2013 toy drive.

Mark chose to live his life knowing that every decision you make — from the biggest to the smallest — affects others.

Whether it is being there to listen to a neighbor or helping families rebuild after a tragedy, any positive action can help make someone else's day just a little bit better. Even if these gestures seem small at the time, they can have lasting impacts on our communities for the better.

Carina recently applied to have the street with his firehouse dedicated to Mark because of the lasting effects he had on his community. "We still miss him. We will always miss him, and that is why we want to dedicate the street to him to recognize all his hard work — 29 years serving our community."

Through his service in the line of duty and his volunteer work, Mark worked diligently to make the world a better place not only for his own family, but for his community. And in the process, he inspired others to follow in his footsteps.

Lee and his son.

"If we had fruit in the house, [my daughter] would cross over to the firehouse and bring an apple, a banana, ever since she was two," said Carina. Her daughter is now seven. "She thought that Mark was nice — he would give her toys — so she still remembers him."

And Cheryl said her family was inspired to do good, too. "My son is just like him … [and Mark], he inspired me. He made me who I am today," Cheryl said. "He touched so many lives, and he will continue to touch their lives. We will make sure of that."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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