MIDLOTHIAN — As summer comes to an end and students return to the classroom, one Midlothian Heritage High School senior has gone above and beyond with her community service requirements, serving in her fourth consecutive year at the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas.

“When you stay at the Ronald McDonald house, it’s basically your 'home away from home,'” began Marissa Villarreal, MHHS senior. “And they make it a perfect place that every family can enjoy. So if I have time to enjoy what I like to do, then I have time to help others enjoy what they want to do.”

According to the Midlothian Heritage High School Community Service Program, students are obligated to complete at least 10 hours of community service during their high school career to graduate.

“Community is very important and doing outreach activities, and helping others, that’s why I joined the Ronald McDonald House,” Marissa acknowledged.

“They don’t have to do it for four years, but for her [Marissa] she wanted to do that from her freshmen year to her senior year as a commitment that she wanted to complete,” explained Dora Villarreal, mother of Marissa.

“Marissa was like, ‘I want more than ten hours, that just doesn’t seem like enough,’” she added.

Founded in 1981, the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas (RMHD) is a home dedicated to serving critically ill and injured children receiving treatment, helping more than 37,000 families.

According to the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas' website, the house is set on 60,000 square feet and contains 52 bedrooms, six apartments, several playrooms, a library, media room, craft room, chapel, kitchens, meditation garden, and outdoor play areas.

Learning about the opportunity during her freshman year through her mother, Marissa jumped on the chance to serve.

“I have an interest in child psychology and counseling and being there for others. So my mom told me about it, and I loved the idea, so I applied for it and ended up making it,” Marissa explained.

Marrissa goes on to note that the application process for the house is extensive and includes a strict one-year commitment to serving families by preparing breakfast, washing cars, hosting activities, and assisting with third-party events and fundraising.

Dora also mentioned that Marissa not only participated in helping raise funds at The Trains at NorthPark, gift-wrapping presents for children, and volunteering with holiday parties, but balanced homework and drill team practices as well.

Adding another project to her list responsibilities, Marissa completed her summer community service project for the RMHD by organizing the entire DVD library for children with extended stays while being treated at Children’s Hospital of Dallas.

“The ladies in the front office needed help because the disks in the cases were getting out of hand because they weren’t alphabetized or put in the right places, and some cases were missing,” Marissa described the tedious task.

“So I went to the room and organized all the DVD’s, and put them in alphabetical order for all the movie shelves,” she recounted. “There were so many DVDs. I think there were like six shelves that were probably about two to three feet wide.”

Through her community service experience, Marissa goes on to say that it has inspired her future career goals as she applies for college.

“I’m about to be finished with my application for UNT [University of North Texas] in Denton, and I’m also planning to apply for Stephen F. Austin State University as well. But I really want to be accepted into UNT,” Marissa chuckled. “I want to go into their education program and pair that with counseling, or go into child psychology and be able to be there for teens my age whenever I’m older.”

“I know that there are teens that are in the Ronald McDonald House, and I’ve met a lot of them. To hear their stories and to care for them, it means a lot to me and the other person, and I love to hear someone’s story and to be able to comfort them in any way I can or congratulate them on being so strong how they’re exceeding in life,” she added.

“I’m super proud of her," Dora jumped in. "I think she really has a heart for it and she makes connections with everyone she comes across with, and it makes her dad and I proud."

Both Marissa and Dora encourage other Heritage high school students to get involved with a community project and serve, regardless of required hours.

"As a teenager, we have the power to make a difference. The exposure and experience gained through volunteering has allowed me to strengthen my passion for community service and understanding the need,” Marissa finished.

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Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer

(469)-517-1450