CSUN student and former extra on “Hannah Montana” focuses on community service in the Valley

Penelope Lopez and Miley Cyrus can say they have one thing in common: they both worked on the television show “Hannah Montana.”

However, that is where the similarities end.

While Cyrus has successfully twerked her way into the public eye with her recent MTV Video Music Awards performance, Lopez is busy performing a different kind of  service.

“There’s a lot of people out there that don’t have what we have, so you always want to give back and see how much you can help,” Lopez said while sitting in the Matador Involvement Center, where she currently works as an event assistant with Unified We Serve, CSUN’s volunteer program.

While she was only an extra on “Hannah Montana,” Lopez believes the experience influenced her development from a pre-teen into the adult she is today.

“At first, it was really hard for me to even speak in front of a crowd or be able to go up to a stranger and say hello, so that really helped me, especially at a younger age, (to) come out of my shell,” Lopez said about her 15 minutes of fame.

Serving her community has been a part of Lopez’s life since starting her own club in high school, Helping Our Teens. The club raised enough money to send seven couples to prom and transformed an entire classroom into a place where financially-strained students could obtain donated prom dresses.

Lopez said she loves seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they thank her for her generosity.

“(I like) just knowing that they don’t expect to be helped, but we’re there to help, and the joy of knowing that we’re able to help someone put a smile on their face, make their day a little brighter,” she said.

During her time at CSUN, Lopez has majored in graphic design, sociology and psychology. She recently changed her major to journalism with an emphasis in public relations.

In addition to Unified We Serve, Lopez is also a member of Colleges Against Cancer, and the cultural sorority Alpha Pi Sigma.

Junior criminology major Travis White has known Lopez since they met last year at a CSUN Relay For Life event. When they started working together in the Involvement Center White said they became instant best friends and now call each other “partners in crime.”

White feels Lopez’s role at the Involvement Center is indicative of who she is as a person.

“For this position, you have to be good with people, good with asking and answering questions, looking to improve the community (and) trying to outreach as best as possible,” White said. “That’s all of the things that she does outstandingly.”

White and his coworkers like to have a little fun with Lopez’s stint in the entertainment industry.

“Ever since she told us she was in Hannah Montana,” White said, “we’ve always been trying to find old Hannah Montana shows to see if that was really true or not.”

Justin Weiss, activities coordinator for volunteer programs at the Matador Involvement Center, has worked with Lopez since July and says she has already made a big impact on him.

“Penny is one of the most impressive students I’ve ever worked with,” Weiss said. “She has the ability to have an extremely caring heart and the desire to help everybody she comes in contact with, coupled with an incredibly professional skill set.”

Weiss said he could see Lopez “going very far in whatever she decides to do.”

“She has the ability to connect so well that I know that regardless of what kind of field she goes into, she’s going to be very successful at it,” Weiss said.

White hopes that his bond with Lopez will last long after they have graduated CSUN.

“After working with all the Unified We Serve (staff), I hope I can say that I hung out with her a lot outside of Unified We Serve,” White said. “She’s a really great friend to have.”

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