Teen shares quincea√±era money with children and caregivers participating in this year’s Get On The Bus trip. Teenager Jeanette Mazariegos brightened many children’s lives last Friday when money she donated from her quincea√±era helped feed participants on the Get On The Bus trip to Chowchilla women’s prison celebrating Mother’s Day. 

Mazariegos got up early to leave with her parents from their apartment in Winnetka at 3:30 a.m. for the bus send-off in San Fernando, where she saw grandparents and caregivers accompanying children to visit their incarcerated mothers.

“I saw a lot of really little kids, 3-, 4- and 5-year olds,” said Mazariegos, the youngest of three girls born to immigrant parents from Guatemala. “A little girl next to me said she would make a big Mother’s Day card for her mom on the bus trip --- it was really cute.”

Mazariegos, who turned 15 on April 1 and celebrated her quinceañera on April 14, said she was inspired to donate $500 because of a talk about Get On The Bus a few weeks ago at St. John Eudes Church, where she attends Sunday Mass with her family.

She remembered what it was like at age 10 to visit a close relative in an Arizona prison after long car rides with her parents and sisters. “The worst part is at the end when you have to say goodbye again,” said Mazariegos.

Knowing that she would get gifts at her quinceañera party held at the Knights of Columbus hall in Canoga Park following Mass at St. John Eudes, Mazariegos decided to ask guests for gift cards or cash which she was planning to donate to charity.

“I knew I was going to get a lot of money for my party and I guess I felt guilty to have all that money when so many people don’t have that much,” explained Mazariegos. “I just wanted to do something. I was praying to God because I knew I couldn’t have all that money to myself.

“One day at church, the announcement about Get On The Bus came and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I want to give to that charity because I know how it is.’” Her dad, Orlando, said he was not surprised at his daughter’s decision --- only a little shocked that a teenager would make such a large donation. 

“I feel proud because she gave that donation on her own --- it came from her,” said Orlando.

Her sisters, according to Mazariegos, were “really shocked because they would not have expected that from me --- they’re like, ‘Really, are you sure?’ They thought I would keep the money and waste it on other stuff.”

“I thought it was wonderful for her to do that,” said oldest sister Jennifer, 20.

Mary Lou Vanderlip, a Get On The Bus volunteer, made a short speech about Mazariegos’ donation to GOTB participants in those early morning hours before the bus departure to the prison in the Central California small town of Chowchilla. The money was going to help pay for meals for all the bus riders. Everyone applauded.

“It felt good,” said Mazariegos. “A lot of people came up to me personally and said, ‘Thank you.’”

A little boy, James, 8, was among those who expressed his gratitude. He was traveling with his grandmother to see his mother, serving the last year of a five-year sentence. “His grandmother said he is always excited to go see his mom,” said Mazariegos.

Observing all the children and their caregivers, Mazariegos said to herself, “It is for real. I feel really happy I did this. They deserve it.”

For more information on Get On The Bus, which brought 24 busloads of children from around California to Chowchilla last week and will bring several busloads to men’s prisons for Father’s Day, call (818) 980-7714.

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