Caleb Pennington cares about the world around him. Sometimes, that makes all the difference.

By Jon Sufrin

 

While many 16-year-olds spend their weekends relaxing, gaming, partying or just generally recovering from the turbulence of being a teenager, Caleb Pennington dedicates his off-days to working at food banks.

Basically, if it “doesn’t make other people smile,” chances are it’s not for this young change-maker. Through the WE School’s program, Caleb, like thousands of other youth spread wide across Canada, is a part of the WE Movement—a collective bound by their commitment to affecting positive social change through local and global action.

A Grade 11 student at Sardis Secondary School in Chilliwack, B.C., Caleb was introduced to the charitable life by his parents at an early age. When he was a child, his mother and father launched the Welcome Inn, a soup kitchen in the nearby town of Abbotsford.

So before he was 10 years old, the youngest child of five siblings found himself working with his entire family dishing out meals and bringing a bit of positivity to those in need.

“I learned that doing a small thing, such as bringing them a meal and asking how their day was, was really helpful and really made them a lot happier,” Caleb says. “But it was also sad to see that some people didn’t have the same experiences as I did, as a very fortunate person.”

Eventually the Welcome Inn ceased operations, but Caleb still felt the itch for charity work. So a few years ago he began volunteering at a food bank in Bellingham, WA—where his father currently lives—and shortly after at the Salvation Army’s food bank in his hometown. Soon, he was splitting his time between the two food banks on most weekends.

Caleb says his father, who grew up without much food in the house, has been a prominent motivating figure in his life.

“My dad has always been focused on giving back, and that’s something he taught me.”

Through the WE School’s program, Caleb was able to apply the lessons passed on by his father to initiatives like WE Scare Hunger. Like other WE School campaigns, WE Scare Hunger sets out to raise awareness around social issues through hands-on service work, in this case, by collecting non-perishables for the local food bank.

Someone who “love[s] the whole idea of WE Schools,” Caleb understands the power of knowledge put to action. As much is evident when sifting through his pastimes. Aside from his involvement with food banks—admirable on its own—there are more items filling out his list of charitable aspirations. He also fundraises—last year, he raised several thousand dollars for the Canadian Cancer Society—and he is emerging as a community leader in anti-bullying activism through his public speaking.

The cause is close to his heart. “I had a bad experience where a friend had taken his own life,” he says. “That kind of shifted what I cared about in life. I didn’t want something like that to happen again.”

To spread awareness, Caleb speaks in front of his school and at community meetings, while encouraging other schools to start their own anti-bullying campaigns. “You shouldn’t let other people drag you down,” he says. “Find the people who care about you and focus on them.”

For Caleb, his focus is on others—what they need and how he can help them. This mindset—whether translated into simple everyday kindnesses or larger volunteer action—is what sets Caleb apart as a leader and change-maker. Compassion is what makes Caleb Caleb.