Jacque Markle was late to her own surprise party.
It kind of sums up the self-effacing resource coordinator with Altoona Regional Health System's Behavioral Health Services.
Markle has worked tirelessly, devoting much of her time on and off the job to children with difficulties. She was recently awarded the 2012 Blair Countians for Drug Free Communities Youth Advocate Award especially for her work with the Blair County Youth League.
Heather Kennedy of the Blair Countians for Drug Free Communities, Blair County Youth League, presents Jacque Markle (right) with the Drug Free Communities Youth Advocate Award.
A surprise party was planned to honor the 56-year-old Altoona woman, who never misses any time to spend with the children, and she was late to her own party because she was helping another child with a medical evaluation.
"How appropriate that she's late for her own surprise party because she's helping the kids and doing what she does," said Heather Kennedy, member of the Blair Countians for Drug Free Communities.
Kennedy, who nominated Markle for the award, said Markle usually shies from attention and never takes center stage. Markle, who has worked with children for more than three decades goes above and beyond her job expectations, said Marlene Mingle, clinical supervisor for resource coordination at Altoona Regional.
"She's very kind and caring toward all of the families she works with. She helps them achieve their goals and the families adore her. She definitely will do anything for them," Mingle said.
As a resource coordinator, Markle works with families whose children have mental health diagnoses.
She is required to find resources and assistance for the families. Markle's interaction, however, doesn't stop there. She often attends children's sporting events or school meetings and takes the children and their parents to lunch with her own money, Kennedy said.
She has helped children collect aluminum cans to earn their own money and spends countless hours playing and supervising softball, basketball and volleyball games with the Blair County Youth League.
Whenever Markle is in a room, the children gravitate to her because she genuinely cares and gives them her full attention, Kennedy said.
"She has always gone above and beyond to provide hope for kids and their families and hope is really big whenever you're working with kids," Kennedy said.
Markle sees it a little differently.
"I wasn't doing anything all that special. I was just doing my job and enjoying it too," she said.
Though Markle doesn't have children of her own, she was always drawn to helping troubled children. After earning a bachelor's degree in individual development and family studies from Penn State University in 1978, Markle became a houseparent at a group home for special needs children sponsored by Family Services in Altoona.
"I enjoyed working with children. I really liked child development," Markle said.
As a houseparent for three years, Markle took care of three young boys with special needs and helped them become involved in the community.
"It was challenging and it was rewarding to see you could make a difference in the boys' behaviors. I developed nice relationships with them," Markle said.
Her work as a houseparent lead her to become a child development specialist at the Blair County Children's Center where she worked with infants, toddlers and preschoolers with developmental delays.
Markle, five years later, became a resource coordinator with the Children's Center, and worked there another seven years before moving to Altoona Regional as a program manager for behavioral health rehabilitation services.
"I think I wanted to expand what I was doing and maybe have a little more direction," Markle said of her move to Altoona Regional.
Through her position, Markle learned a lot about mental health and working with troubled children, and the experience was invaluable to her current position as resource coordinator, which she landed in 2002.
Markle works with children and young adults, ages 5 to 19, who have mental health diagnoses. These children are involved in Blair County Youth League, which lead to Markle's involvement.
In addition to Markle's job as resource coordinator and involvement with Blair County Youth League, Markle has volunteered with the Blair County Special Olympics, The Arc, Volunteers for Literacy, the Central Pennsylvania Humane Society and Dreams Go On, where she helps with the therapeutic horseback riding program.
Like anyone else who has worked with Markle, Rachel DiAndrea, volunteer chairwoman for Dreams Go On, said Markle is "a key volunteer."
Not only does Markle love children, but she also loves animals. Markle lives on a small farm in Altoona where she has four horses, a pony, a donkey and some chickens, as well as cats and dogs.
At Dreams Go On, Markle helps with riding program offered to children with special needs.
"Every student has different needs and requirements and we have to adapt to each child. It takes a special volunteer to switch gears quickly and enable student to grow. She's a wonderful animal lover and kind human being," DiAndrea said.
Through her involvement in various community organizations, Markle has helped numerous children, Kennedy said. Though Markle is reluctant to accept praise, she said she feels good helping and supporting children and seeing them grow.
"There are so many children who are struggling with mental health issues and disorders. They need direction and some plans to get through and see the more positive things for their lives," Markle said.