"You guys are sneaky," said Jaguars long snapper Joe Zelenka at Garden City Elementary School on Tuesday, December 14th when he was surprised to find out he was being honored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida (BCBSFL) as the 2004 recipient of the Community Champion Award. The award is presented annually to a Jaguars player and a Jacksonville-based BCBSFL employee who demonstrate leadership in service to the community. Zelenka was visiting the school to talk to the students about the importance of mentoring and doing well in school.
Zelenka, a sixth-year veteran long snapper for the Jaguars, was honored for his tireless work in the community. He makes several unscheduled visits to The Ronald McDonald House and to Wolfson Children's Hospital. He also makes regular visits to elementary schools to talk to children about the importance of a good education. Along with the school visits, he has taken an interest in our nation's military. Earlier this year he traveled to Greenland with a few of the ROAR cheerleaders and Jaxson de Ville to visit some of our military personnel. He's also made a number of visits to local military functions giving motivational talks to our men and women in the armed forces.
"I absolutely love going out to schools and talking to kids," Zelenka said. "It's not like I have to go out and visit with kids in the community, it's more of a want for me. I love coming to see you guys."
A couple of Zelenka's teammates were in on the surprise as well: punter Chris Hanson and center Brad Meester. Both were in attendance when Zelenka received the award.
"He's a good friend of mine and a great guy in the community. I'm very excited for him;
it couldn't have happened to a better guy," said Hanson. "He's great out there and does a good job talking to the kids and with helping out, and doing whatever….he loves to give and give of his time."
Offensive tackle Maurice Williams had this to say about Zelenka: "I think this award alone shows the type of guy that Joey Z really is. He's a guy that cares about the community, and about his teammates…it talks about his character; both he and his wife Rebekah, both of them are two outstanding people for them to accomplish the things that they have in the community. This is a big tribute to them and the type of teammate that we have, and you know it couldn't have happened to a better guy."
"There's so much to say about Joe," said Meester. "He's a fun guy to be around. You always see it on TV and that's the way he is all the time. Him in the community, he does so much stuff in the community and gives so much time of himself. That's why he's so deserving of this award, it's because he's so giving of his time – what little time we have he gives it to everybody else."
The Jaguars and BCBSFL partner for this annual award, which includes a $5,000 charity donation made up of $2,500 in the name of each award honoree. The charities which have been named by the honorees to receive a financial gift are BIGS in Schools and Kessler Mentoring ($2,500), and the Ronald McDonald House ($2,500).
Jill Gleason, an employee of BCBSFL, was honored for her tireless efforts on behalf of the BIGS in Schools program where she coordinates BCBSFL employees to take time out of their day to mentor to children attending Garden City Elementary School. The program enables the employees to visit the school and spend a little time mentoring, whether it's helping with homework, reading a book, or stopping by to join them for lunch.
Zelenka is the fifth player to receive the award. Linebacker Akin Ayodele was last year's honoree.