High school students are often perceived as being self-centered and cliquish. But one high school junior has got students at Fairfax High School rallying together for cause.
Eighteen-year-old Jose Chojolan is shy Fairfax student who suffered an unimaginable tragedy. In January, after weeks of back pains and numbness, Jose underwent emergency surgery for a blood clot on his neck vertebrae. He survived the surgery, but is now paralyzed from the neck down.
Since then, Fairfax students, dubbed “Jose’s Soldiers” by one teacher, have been working overtime to raise money for Jose. In addition to high medical expenses, Jose’s family is faced with finding an affordable, wheel-chair accessible apartment for the five-member family.
So far, almost $80,000 has been raised between student fundraisers and donations from the community.
On Friday, the Chick-fil-A in Hollywood added to that total by donating 20 percent of its profits to Jose. When school let out, hundreds of Fairfax students caravanned to the Sunset Boulevard at Highland Avenue location to buy a meal and help the cause, most wearing special t-shirts honoring Jose.
“Jose is a person who was perfect, who had his whole future ahead of him and it just happened,” explained Mirna Cabrera, who helped publicize the event. “We’re all here for the cause. We love to support. We’re a very united school.”
“This is amazing,” said Delfino Chojolan, the 26-year-old brother of Jose who’s working three part-time jobs to help pay the families bills. “To see all these students wearing the t-shirts, knowing they’re here to support Jose, that means so much.”
Rachel Clemments, marketing director for the Hollywood Chick-fil-A, said the store agreed to do the fundraiser after several employees who attend Fairfax High talked about Jose. The store often does “Spirit Nights” where they dedicate a portion of proceeds to a particular cause.
“We normally do Spirit Nights for three-to-four hours, but for this, we’re donating from the entire day,” Clemments said. “Fairfax High School students have done so much. This is a really great cause and we wanted to be a part of it.”
Most didn’t know Jose
What makes this story even more amazing is the fact that a majority of the 3,000 students at Fairfax didn’t know Jose. But once word got out about his paralysis, suddenly everyone wanted to help out.
“You hear his story, you can really relate to it. It’s a really terrible story,” said Gabriel Russell, a senior who designed and sold buttons supporting Jose. It doesn’t matter to Russell that he didn’t know Jose, he just wants to help the cause.
“It makes you appreciate being able to walk,” Russell added. “I’m glad I’m surrounded by people who are willing to do this.”
Luis Bolanos is a sophomore who did know Jose prior to the incident. They had sixth period together and did a few projects together.
“Jose was a really cool kid,” Bolanos said. “I enjoyed spending time with him.”
Every Friday since the beginning of February, Bolanos has gotten up early to go to a wholesale bakery to buy 500 croissants to sell at school for $2 a piece. He’s sold out every week, so far raising almost $7,500 for the cause.
“The whole school has gotten involved. It’s become a community effort,” said marine biology teacher Jennie Jackson, who has known Jose since 9th grade.
Jose was a student in her AVID program, a nationwide program targeting students with high potential from low-income families to help improve their chances of getting into college.
“Jose was gung-ho about the program from the start,” said Jackson. “He showed up for all the meetings, did everything he asked. He was dedicated and improved tremendously.”
Since the paralysis, Jackson has been visiting the family regularly and helping in the apartment-finding effort. She explained her dedication by saying, “he’s with me for four years. I’m Jose’s AVID mom.”
California 42nd District Assemblyman Mike Feuer has also gotten involved. Nicole Carcel of Feuer’s office is working with the family to find an apartment and set up a special needs trust for the monies raised.
“This is a really special family,” said Carcel. “You can’t help but want to get involved once you meet them.”
Jose is working with a rehabilitation therapist. He’s able to control his wheelchair by maneuvering a knob with his moth. He’s also being trained to use an iPad and hopes to come back to Fairfax in August to start his senior year.
“We love Jose,” said Jackson. “We can’t wait for him to come back and graduate across Fairfax High School stage.”
Checks for Jose's family can be made out to Jose’s mother, Maria Reynoso and sent in care of Jennie Jackson, Fairfax High School, 7850 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA, 90046.