Stories

Committed to Service

A particularly lonely day in 2009 transformed Jesse Cruz '16. After a scary, challenging year in the Army in Iraq, Cruz flew back to Fort Hood military base in Texas with his military unit. The new veterans stepped onto an open field. Spouses, children, and loved ones swarmed around nearly everyone.

But not one person was there to welcome Cruz. "That was a really bad day for me, a day I can't ever forget," says Cruz, who's now 28. He realized that he'd been mainly focused on himself and hadn't been the best son, friend, father, or romantic partner.

His new focus became helping other people. "I've dedicated my life to giving back as much as I can," says Cruz. "People were designed to live in collaboration and teamwork." He came to that realization by reconnecting to his Christian faith, which began with reading stories in the Bible that inspired him to be a better person and helped him feel at peace.

Cruz is also grateful for several good role models. When Cruz had become a parent but was dating various women and not committing to one partner, a close friend pulled him aside and asked, "Do you want your daughter to be with a man who's like that?" The question was another wakeup call, says Cruz. "From that day forward, I changed. He was so right."

Cruz also is grateful for the great example of giving set by his wife, Desrié Cruz, whom he married in 2014 and describes as selfless. "She makes me want to be a better man every day."

He started college at Finger Lakes Community College, then transferred to Nazareth College to study social work. At Nazareth, he discovered a passion for community youth development, which became his major. He believes that being a positive presence in a child's life can help the child have a healthier adulthood.

Rather than considering the teens he works with to be "at risk," he says, "We call them misguided." He adds, "I believe everyone is misguided in some way." Marie Watkins, Ph.D., director of the community youth development program, says, "Jesse Cruz epitomizes Nazareth's commitment to service." He says Dr. Watkins has been a role model and mentor who's helped him continue building his character. "It's not about the grade. It's about the kind of person you're becoming. That's going to carry you way further in life." He believes the world needs more teachers like her, and he hopes to someday become a teacher himself.

After graduation, he says he will welcome opportunities to return and speak to students about his profession or about giving, serving, or leadership. "I read that the purpose of life is to find your gift and the meaning of life is to give that gift to others," he says. "I truly agree with that." Giving starts at home, he says. He believes he has to give his best to God and to his wife and his daughters, who are 7 and 9. So he reads the Bible regularly, and he enjoys family outings to state parks. "You can't give the world what you're not giving to your own family," says Cruz. He adds: "You can't forget about yourself. You've got to take time for yourself."

Next chapter

After Nazareth, Cruz went on for a master's in theology at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He continues to speak at Wayne County Jail, work with Youth Advocate Programs, coach basketball, etc. "I am curious to see the next chapter God brings into my life," he says.


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Jesse Cruz

Jesse Cruz '16

"Live to give. That's what it's about."

How Cruz Gives Back

  • Works part-time as a youth advocate with teens at Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. in Wayne County.
  • Volunteered doing faith-based mission work in the Dominican Republic, July 2015, with this wife, a "life changing" experience.
  • Volunteered at Boys & Girls Club in Geneva for Nazareth fieldwork.
  • Serves hot meals with his family occasionally through Emmanuel Methodist Church in Newark, Wayne County
  • Volunteered in a cancer unit at Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong for a year.
  • Every other month, speaks at a Wayne County jail chapel service for inmates.
  • Coaches boys' basketball.