Barnegat High School senior Kim Pepenella will be recognized with an Ocean County Guidance Directors Caring Award for volunteer service.

She’ll receive the honor as the high school’s recipient at a ceremony on May 1 at the Ocean County Vocational Technical School in Brick Township. Each Ocean County high school has one representative.

Pepenella has been involved in community projects since entering high school, and said she was inspired through attending a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards conference.

“That really hit home to me the value of community service,” she said. “It was so great to see so many young people involved, and that got me interested in giving back to my town.”

She got involved with the high school’s Interact Club, in partnership with the Southern Ocean Rotary Club. Now she is concentrating on working with Rotaract, a similar organization for people ages 18 to 30.

As a sophomore, Pepenella started St. Bernard’s Food for Pets at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Barnegat.

“We were finding out that people who had trouble feeding their families could not afford to feed their pets and some had to give their pets away,” she said. “That was so sad because pets really become part of the family.”

That project earned her a Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest Girl Scout honor.    

In 2012, the Long Beach Island Chapter of Soroptimist International honored her with its Violet Richardson Award for Outstanding Youth Volunteer.

Pepenella has found time to teach tennis to disabled students, assist serving Thanksgiving meals at the Tuckerton Seaport for needy families and volunteer at the Lighthouse International Film Festival on Long Beach Island

Debbie Sylvia, Pepenella’s guidance counselor, said, “I don’t think anyone has put in more volunteer hours than she has. She is very giving and very generous.”

“Kim has gone above and beyond with volunteering,” added high school Principal Stephen Nichol. “When food collection drives were set up to help families, she took it a step further to help pets. She gives of so much of her time and while maintaining an excellent 3.8 grade point average.”

Following high school graduation, Pepenella will attend Cabrini College in Radnor, Pa., as a communications and political science major. And no doubt, she’ll find a way to become involved in community-oriented projects there.

— Eric Englund