SEBASTOPOL (KPIX 5) – If you see people in need, help them out – That’s the mindset of a 16-year-old from Sebastopol, whose community service has even gained a pat on the back from President Barack Obama.

It was like Christmas in March when 16-year-old Gianna Pendleton brought games and art supplies to homeless children at Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa during a recent visit.

“I saw they need some things, so I thought I’d donate some items that they needed,” Pendleton explained in between carrying loads of bags from her mother’s car.

The Analy High School junior formed a community service action group with the Sonoma County 4H in 2009. She organizes more than 300 teenagers to do service projects, and their donation drives have brought in hundreds of socks, toiletries, toys and blankets for Catholic Charities.

Amy Ramirez heads its Family Support Center.

“That’s huge because when people come into the shelter, they’re literally coming in with what they have on their backs,” Ramirez said.

Pendleton learned to volunteer when she was just six-years-old, shadowing her mother at convalescent homes and Salvation Army fundraisers.

Today, she takes charge. She’s organized her peers from 4H and Future Farmers of America, and together they’ve raised $28,000 as Salvation Army bell ringers.

Her FFA advisor, Sadie DeMarta, praises her leadership.

“She’s a hard worker,” DeMarta said. “She rallies up students in our program to get involved. They all look up to her. She’s a great role model for her peers.”

Pendleton said when it comes to organizing community service projects among her teenaged friends, it’s not just about donation drives – the key is variety.

“Usually, when you do the same thing over and over again, a lot of people lose interest,” she said.

Pendleton coordinated a breast cancer awareness drive at a school football game, and the aspiring veterinarian organizes mobile petting zoos for children in homeless shelters and schools.

“They just think a cow is something that goes and eats grass,” Pendleton said of the kids who haven’t had the opportunity to see livestock up close. “You tell them ‘this is what produces your milk for you and cheese and all that.’ So it does open their eyes.”

Pendleton has also raised money for family and friends with serious illnesses.

Fellow 4H participants, like Steven Pozzi, have said she inspires them to volunteer.

“I feel like I’m more part of the community now because I’m giving back to it,” Pozzi explained.

For her many hours of community work, Pendleton has received certificates from the San Francisco 49ers, and and President Obama. But she said her greatest reward is the joy she brings others.

“It made me a better person, because I could just go out there and see that smile and know I’m the one who put the smile on that person’s face.”

So for rallying hundreds of Sonoma County teenagers to volunteer, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Gianna Pendleton.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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