Kristen Hernandez:

Empathy for others is what sets this week’s Valley Sun All-Star apart from the many great kids in this community.

Kristen Hernandez, 17, a junior at La Cañada High School not only spends her free time helping others through church and community programs in La Cañada and Pasadena area, but she also recently created a documentary on the plight of the homeless in downtown Los Angeles and is planning for a career as a social justice attorney.

“Kristen is a sweet and amazing girl,” said Jim Staniels, junior high youth director at La Cañada Presbyterian Church, where Hernandez has been a member since her family moved to La Cañada 13 years ago.

Hernandez is the daughter of Don and Kathy Hernandez. She has a brother, Stephen, 15, who is a sophomore at La Cañada High School.

She attended Palm Crest Elementary School from kindergarten through sixth-grade and La Cañada High 7/8.

At church, she leads and mentors the junior high small group, in addition to participating in youth activities for her own age group.

Staniels said Hernandez has the ability to listen to younger youths and build relationships with them that allow the kids to talk with her about things they would never tell their own parents.

“She just does a fabulous job and gives [the other youths] good advice. She also spends a lot of her own time doing stuff with the kids, outside of the required time,” he said. “She puts her whole self into this. It’s hard to find people like Kristen, who are so busy with school and everything and yet willing to give their time to genuinely help other people.”

Hernandez said she enjoys working with the junior high kids. She was in the program at that age and it was a big help to her.

“The junior high group is very important to me and I know how close I’ve gotten [with the younger youths]. They’ve impacted me as I’ve impacted them,” she said.

Hernandez began her 20-minute documentary on poverty in Los Angeles as a project for her advanced media arts class.

The documentary consists of interviews with representatives of Union Rescue Mission and the Intercity Law Center, as well as with a former homeless woman. The woman, identified only as Denise, is an alcoholic and lived for 10 years on the streets before getting her life back on track and going back to her professional life as a teacher.

Hernandez’ grandmother, Gerri Duttweiler had previously gotten to know Denise and helped the two connect for the project.

In addition to beginning her search for a college, Hernandez will spend a month this summer learning Spanish via an immersion program in Costa Rica. She said she’s excited about that opportunity because she will be able to learn a language that will be helpful to her in her chosen career.

“So many low income people speak Spanish that I know it will be good to be able to use that when I am an attorney helping people,” she said.

While growing up in La Cañada, Hernandez has enjoyed playing varsity soccer. She also is an avid reader, and she spends her free time tutoring underprivileged youths through the STARS program in Pasadena.

Kathy Hernandez said she appreciates her daughter’s concern for others and dedication to helping those in need.

“She talks about being a social justice attorney someday, among other things, and I can’t wait to see what she does,” the proud mom said.

If you would like to nominate an outstanding local youth to be spotlighted as a Valley Sun All-Star, send an e-mail to

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