CHICAGO -- A suburban teacher, whose students say he has gone above and beyond during the pandemic, got a special surprise Sunday.
As Jason Piechowiak walked out of his Rogers Park home, he had no idea the crowd standing outside was for him.
The 6th grade Northbrook Junior High School teacher was greeted with smiles and cheers.
The humble teacher was presented with $750 from Buddy's Helpers as a thank you for his work in the classroom during a very strange year.
"I don't do this stuff for the awards or the nominations or the gifts. I do it because I love my job and I love seeing the smiles of young men and women that I get to teach," he said.
"He's passionate, he's energetic, he's fun-loving [and] he's got a great sense of humor," said Northbrook Junior HS Principal Scott Meek.
Meek said Piechowiak cares, and before a recent reopening pause, the social studies teacher welcomed the added challenges as a pandemic-era educator.
"He's being asked more than any teacher, to do more in the sense that he's got some blended classrooms where he's teaching kids that are remote and in-person at the same time," Meek said.
Piechowiak's wife, however, was not surprised but her husband's recognition.
"This guy is always giving to other people and should be recognized," she said.
His selflessness comes all while overcoming his own challenges. A fire last year forced his family to relocate for months, and in 2016 he lost his dad to cancer.
"I told my dad when he passed away that I'd make him proud, and this is something I know he's very proud of," Piechowiak said.
His father would also surely be proud of Piechowiak's ongoing bicycle rides for cancer research, of which a third of his gifts have been set aside for.
Another $250 will help Piechowiak and his family have fun at a Cubs game as soon as fans are allowed back, and the last chunk is for him and his students to celebrate together when it's safe to do so.
While expressing how grateful he is for the Sunday surprise, Piechowiak shared a lesson for us all in trying times.
"Be thankful for what you do have, because this too shall pass," Piechowiak said.