Mt. Lebanon teen Nathan Zezza invited to White House

Too young to vote, but he worked 500 hours for Obama


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At 17, Nathan Zezza of Mt. Lebanon wasn't even old enough to vote in the presidential election earlier this month.

But that didn't stop him from working more than 500 hours on the campaign to re-elect President Barack Obama, manning phone banks and pounding the pavement.

He thought his big reward for that effort was the president's re-election.

But last weekend, he found out he's getting a more personal reward. Nathan, a senior at Mt. Lebanon High School, received an invitation from the president, Vice President Joe Biden and their wives to a holiday reception Dec. 18 at the White House.

"When I opened the envelope, I was jumping around and screaming. I was so happy," Nathan said.

He was nominated for the invitation by regional staff members of the Obama campaign.

"He was amazing. There were times when we actually had to make him go home to do his homework," said Troy Stevenson of Newark, N.J., who served as regional field director for the Obama campaign in Allegheny County in 2008 and 2012.

Mr. Stevenson said Nathan is one of four people from Allegheny County invited to a reception at the White House, but he is by far the youngest.

Nathan didn't plan on getting involved in politics at such a young age. A native of California whose family had relocated to Cleveland in 2010, Nathan moved to Mt. Lebanon with his mother in the summer of 2011 after he was invited to play for the Junior Penguins as an entree to a possible professional hockey career.

But a few months into the season, Nathan suffered a concussion as a result of a particularly brutal body check. The concussion sidelined him from hockey, a sport that had consumed much of his time since he was young.

Then one day last spring while in the Strip District, he stumbled upon an Obama campaign headquarters. The staff there directed him to the campaign organization in the South Hills, which did much of its work out of coffee shops in Mt. Lebanon before opening a campaign office in Dormont in October.

He started working a few hours a night in May, making phone calls to individuals identified as undecided or unlikely voters. Nathan increased his hours until he was working up to 12 a day. He started door-knocking in neighborhoods and meeting and greeting people along main thoroughfares roadways such as Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon.

For the most part, Nathan said, people were polite and intrigued by such a young campaign worker. But there were those few who threatened to turn their dogs loose on him and one fellow who threatened to "beat some sense into me."

But he was able to handle the negativity by keeping his focus on getting the president re-elected, the same way he kept his focus on winning hockey games.

Nathan said he became an ardent supporter of Mr. Obama after his father lost his job in the insurance industry in 2008. Nathan said his father collected unemployment for six months before getting another job, and it called Nathan's attention to the need for programs like unemployment and social programs aimed at helping the needy.

The bills from his concussion treatment, which he said totaled about $10,000, were largely covered by the family's health insurance. That, he said, opened his eyes to the need for everyone to have health insurance and access to health care.

If he gets a chance to speak directly to the president, Nathan knows what he wants to say: "I want to thank him for everything he has done and for his dedication to families and the middle class."

region - neigh_south

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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