Even small acts make a big difference. Just ask anyone who knew this firefighter.

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."

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign. We don't do PSAs. We also need to update so to explain truth – the nonprofit behind the truth youth smoking prevention campaign – you could also say this in a funny way – best known for sharing the facts about smoking and vaping or pull from some old campaigns. Just layer in a description of truth and who the campaign is., is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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