As a youngster growing up on the Oregon Coast, Danielle Whitlock's lifelong ambition was to work in the Pepsi Wagon at the Depoe Bay Salmon Bake.
"It looked like so much fun," she said, laughing. "Pouring Pepsi and putting it on trays for people to hand out. It was so worth the wait."
But now, as she prepares to enter college?
"I want to go to law school eventually and get a doctorate in psychology so I can become a judge," said the 17-year-old Springwater Trail High School senior. "I like to watch and observe people — see how they react to different situations. I feel if people would listen to each other, things would be so much better."
While her dream to peddle soda to visitors at the Salmon Bake did eventually come to pass, Danielle's view of the world has expanded beyond the city limits of her childhood home in Lincoln City. The sudden death of her father in 2005 forced her to confront grown-up realities at the young age of 5, but also instilled a belief that humanity is really one big family and no one should be without comfort and compassion.
A vivacious brunette, with boundless energy and a shy smile, Danielle's resume of volunteerism is exhausting. She is a student leader at Springwater Trail, an Outdoor School counselor, mentor for incoming freshmen and gives countless hours of her time to school activities and projects.
She still volunteers at the Salmon Bake each summer, but since moving to Boring with her mother and brother in 2006, she has immersed herself in social justice issues that extend from Oregon to Mexico.
Last year, after raising $1,200 from car washes, bake sales and bottle deposit refunds, Danielle was part of mission team from Mountainview Christian Church that traveled to Mexico. The group's purpose was to build a home for a family of four that had been living in a shack and using blankets for walls.
"A lot of people wonder why I went to Mexico," Danielle said. "I'm trying to make a statement. I know there are people who need things here, but when you take the time to go somewhere and help people, maybe it will be inspire somebody to do something else."
Danielle's compassion for those less fortunate has propelled her to champion the cause of affordable housing and the plight of those without a roof over their head. The last four years she has been a regular volunteer with Night Strike, a local organization that provides meals, clothing and personal hygiene items to the homeless under the Burnside Bridge in Portland.
But it's the public's perception of the unsheltered that needs to change, Danielle said. Oftentimes, she added, younger people are able to break through barriers that prevent simple human contact.
"As a kid, you don't see the homeless problem as much," Danielle said. "But when you talk to the people and hear their life stories, it's impactful. They're the same as I am — why would I treat them differently? That could be me."
Danielle's mother, Sule, attributes her daughter's compassion to an encounter she had as a child with a homeless man in Lincoln City.
"I had a job delivering newspapers, and it was Christmas Eve," Sule recalled. "Danielle and her brother were asleep, so I put everything out before I left to go to work. She got up and was so excited that Santa had come that she decided she had to find me to tell me what Santa had left. Here she was, 5 years old and walking around at night by herself."
A homeless gentlemen came across the youngster, chatted her up and walked her home. Sule, who was recently widowed at the time, asked around and learned the man's name. She arranged for him to receive a haircut, some new clothes and a place to stay. He went on to make a better life for himself, Sule said.
That interaction taught young Danielle about the power of a simple kindness. Recognizing the basic human element is the key to offering hope to others.
"I feel a lot of problems happen because of miscommunication," she explained. "When you pass (the homeless) on the street, it means more to them when someone says hi or smiles at them. You do something good, someone adds something better and it turns into something great. Sort of like the pebble in the water. I want to be the pebble in the water."
How to help
Danielle Whitlock hopes to return to Mexico this summer, to continue work with a mission team from Mountainview Christian Church. If you'd like to help with her fundraising efforts, please visit Danielle's gofundme account at
The Outlook and Sandy Post received several nominations of local students for the Pamplin Media Group's special publication, Amazing Kids. While it is unfortunate that we were unable to feature each of them, we would still like to acknowledge their contributions to their schools and communities because they too, are amazing.
• Reyna Tapia Herrera — junior, Centennial High School. Reyna is a student representative to the Centennial School Board, as well as a member of the Multnomah County Youth Commission and its Youth Against Violence sub-committee. She is active in the Four Cities Peer Court; Enough is Enough (an organization that heightens awareness of violence in the community); Friends of Trees and the Oregon Food Bank.
• Jamie Stone — senior, Centennial High School. Jamie is the 2017 6A OSAA Female Swimmer of the Year, state champion for the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle, as well as the state record holder for the 6A 100-yard freestyle. She is the only swimmer in Oregon history to repeat state championships during all four years and in both her events. Jamie will attend the University of Arizona next year on a full scholarship.
• Maria Fuentes — senior, Centennial High School. Maria is the current ASB President. She is active in the school's Community 101 club, Human Trafficking Awareness group and has been the tennis team's Athlete of the Month. Through the National Honor Society, Maria volunteers with the Oregon Food Bank, Johnson Creek Watershed, Friends of Trees and Food for Families. Her interest in science led her to an internship at Oregon Health & Science University, where she documented an effective way to measure the specific surface area of research-grade reducing materials. Her findings were published by the American Chemical Society.
• Madison Higgins — senior, Centennial High School. Madison is a 4-year member of Centennial Cheer and current officer for the Future Business Leaders of America. She is active in with Food for Families and Centennial School District's Closet to Closet programs and regularly finds ways to help the local homeless population.
• Sidra Cohen-Mallon — fourth-grader, Oregon Trail Academy in Sandy. A first-year Girl Scout, 10-year-old Sidra sold more than 80 boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Her sales pitch was a suggestion to purchase a second box of cookies that could be donated to the Sandy Community Action Center. Sidra estimated that around half her customers chose to donate their box of cookies instead of keeping them.