BATAVIA – Gianna Jensen of Batavia likes helping people.
The 13-year-old Rotolo Middle School student works on a broad range of charitable causes and lately has been turning heads with her pop tab recycling program.
“I care about helping people and seeing how it makes them feel,” Jensen said.
Jensen is running a pop tab recycling collection program designed to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House across from Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield. The house provides lodging for the parents of children undergoing treatment at the hospital.
The collection boxes are now in most Batavia school buildings and Jensen is working to get them at the police and fire stations and other public buildings.
It started three years ago when Jensen was a student at Louis White School and was inspired to work on recycling by her fourth-grade teacher, Ellen Stewart.
Since then, Jensen and Stewart have remained close. Jensen, now a seventh-grader at Rotolo, helped Stewart set up a hallway with recycling stations at Alice Gustafson School, where Stewart now teaches.
“She has a servant’s heart for sure,” Stewart said of her former student.
Jensen decided she could expand the pop tab recycling and make a bigger difference.
“I started thinking I could do more with this and so I contacted the principals and got this organized,” Jensen said.
So far this school year, Jensen has delivered 90 pounds of the tabs, valuable for recycling because of the dense, high-grade aluminum, to Ronald McDonald House.
The tabs come from all kinds of aluminum food and beverage containers from soda cans to cat food tins.
“The pop tabs really do make a difference,” Stewart said.
Jensen’s goal is 600 pounds, which would earn her recognition in the Ronald McDonald House “Thanks a Million Club.”
Jensen’s charity work often brings her into direct contact with the people she is trying to help.
She volunteered to work the Batavia Christmas Toy Drive program, helping parents in need to shop for their children on the designated distribution day.
And, Jensen volunteers to serve meals at the Hesed House Homeless Shelter in Aurora.
“I love to see people in dark places find happiness and have their spirits lifted,” Jensen said.
Jensen helps her father, Batavia police Officer Emil Jensen, at events like the annual Shop With a Cop at the Batavia Walmart and a Special Olympics fundraiser at the T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant in Batavia.
As if that was not enough, Jensen also packs up food packages for the Feed My Starving Children charity office in Aurora. Jensen said she has put together parcels for people in Haiti and Zimbabwe. She gets a lot of help from her father, her mother Angelique and younger sister Annelise, 10.
Jensen still finds time for other activities. She plays on the Club Fusion volleyball team at the Campana building and plays the upright bass for both the orchestra and the jazz ensemble at Rotolo.
Active in 4-H, Jensen rides horses and raises chickens. She does both very well, winning competitions at the Kane County Fair.
“I absolutely adore animals,” Jensen said.
Yet, Jensen does not neglect her school work at Rotolo, where she is enrolled in advanced mathematics and English language programs.
“She’s been straight A honor roll as long as she’s been in school,” Emil Jensen said of his daughter.
Indeed, the young Jensen is now about to join the National Junior Honor Society, which recognizes students for scholastic achievement and charitable work.
Jensen has plenty of time to think about a career, although she has “no doubt” that she will be going to college.
For a long time, Jensen’s fondness for animals had her thinking about a career as veterinarian.
But now, Jensen thinks she may want to become a police officer.
“It’s helping people and I want to help people,” Jensen said. "I like working with the public and that’s what the job is.”