ANAHEIM, Calif. (KABC) -- Jenna Kinnon has volunteered for many organizations but found that her greatest challenge - and reward - has come from helping at-risk children.
When the 17-year-old started volunteering at Higher Ground Youth and Family Services in Anaheim, she thought it would be just an ordinary day camp, but after spending countless hours with the children there, she said the kids changed her life.
"The love I got back...It's almost like a family to me, and these kids mean so much to me," said Kinnon.
The Esperanza High School student said working with at-risk 6 to 8-year-old boys was a reality check at first. Many were angry and came from tough neighborhoods. Some kids even once said they "hated" her. But with kindness, attention and activities, she said that all changed.
"After a while, they slowly start to bond with you, and they actually change," Kinnon said. "It's so beautiful to see them change because they actually want to engage more, they want to play. They know someone cares about them, someone is there for them. And they can come here and count on us to always be there for them with whatever they need."
Kinnon volunteers 200 hours a year through the National Charity League of Yorba Linda. She also spends that time volunteering with Meals On Wheels, the Red Cross, on Skid Row and at senior centers.
She plans to attend Orange Coast College, then a university, to become a pediatrician.
Kinnon is one "Cool Kid" who also hopes to open another program like Higher Ground someday, to help guide children down a better path.
"What else would I be doing with my time?" expressed Kinnon. "If I have spare time I would rather be giving back to the community."
Cool Kid Jenna Kinnon volunteers to help mentor at-risk children