Gianna Pendleton, 15, holds her goat for Ruth Pitchner, 81, at Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa. Gianna's mobile petting zoo for seniors is just one of the charitable causes the teen coordinates. Press Democrat photo by John Burgess

 

By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Gianna Pendleton can’t resist offering a helping hand.
The 15-year-old has plenty of responsibilities of her own, starting with the full yard of farm animals she must care for at her family’s property outside Sebastopol. Those duties start at 6 a.m. during the school year.
At Analy High School, where Pendleton will be a junior next month, she also serves as vice president of the Future Farmers of America chapter.
But that’s just the beginning.
For three years now, she has served as teen community service coordinator for Sonoma County 4H, a role that puts her at the center of the club’s outreach and fundraising efforts.
As part of that post, and on her own, she has organized charitable clothing and toiletry drives, petting zoos for children and ailing seniors and chipped in with holiday fundraising for the Salvation Army.
Befitting a busy farm girl, her assessment of that long list is perfectly matter-of-fact: “I’m always on the go, it seems like.”
Her mother, Michelle, can back that up. Most weekdays Gianna rounds out her schoolwork with an evening meeting or obligation of some other.
“It’s just something she’s always pushed for,” said Michelle Pendleton, an accountant at the nonprofit Catholic Charities.
Gianna’s dreams include a career as a large-animal veterinarian, a path she hopes to pursue at UC Davis.
For now, her work ethic has earned recognition from President Barack Obama, in the form of an esteemed gold level Volunteer Service Award, a surprise that came in the mail last month.
“I was shaking when I opened it,” Gianna said.
She also gets praise closer to home. Enlisting teens for volunteer work is not easy, but Gianna makes it happen with creativity, teachers and 4H advisers said.
“She thinks in big vision,” said Judy Ludovise, program assistant for Sonoma County 4H. “She has a very magnetic, wonderful personality. If I ask her to do anything, she’ll just jump into it.”
Her initiatives have included a “10 warm toes drive” that collected 1,300 pair of socks for the homeless, and a dine-and-donate fundraiser for Sebastopol FFA that brought in more than $1,000.
“She’s the type of kid that tries for everything,” said Sadie DeMarta, Analy High School’s agriculture teacher.
A recent family health scare showed that even a serious setback doesn’t break her stride.
When her younger sister, Marissa, 12, came down with a life-threatening flesh-eating infection last month in her right leg, Gianna stuck by her side as much as she could. With help from friends, she also followed through with her animal-showing duties at the Sonoma-Marin Fair.
Marissa now is recovering at home, her sister not far from her side. But work is also under way for the Sonoma County Fair this week and another school year busy with volunteer projects. It’s nothing new for this farm family.
“It get’s a little crazy,” Gianna said. “It’s just something in the genes.”

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.<NO1>

Gianna Pendleton
Age: 15
Birthplace: Petaluma
Lives: In Sebastopol with mother, Michelle, and sister, Marissa, and in Rohnert Park with father, Tom
What’s in her iPod: Jason Aldean, Luke Brian, Carrie Underwood
Favorite hobby: Showing sheep, community service
Dream job: Large animal veterinarian
Favorite movies: “Flicka” and “8 Seconds”
Favorite food: Lasagna