By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator  

What do you get when you cross a chef with an animal lover along with an actress, a singer, a gardener, a humanitarian, an artist, a crafter, an award-winning public speaker and an honor roll student? You get Gabriella Cietutat, the 2019 Young Woman of Excellence winner in Tangipahoa Civil Parish.  

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Gabriella Cieutat, a student at St. Joseph School in Ponchatoula, checks on the progress of the herbs she planted recently. Gabriella was selected as the 2019 Young Woman of Excellence in a contest sponsored by the Tangipahoa Civil Parish Library. Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator 

 

The 10-year-old, who attends St. Joseph School in Ponchatoula, was the standout nominee among a crowded field of 16 candidates ranging in age from 10 to 18.  

“I was so excited because like whenever they finally got results … I remember it,” recalled a grinning Cietutat. “We were at Wendy’s drive-through to get Helena (my sister) something and my mom’s like, ‘So we found out who the Woman of Excellence was.’ And I’m like, ‘Is it me? Is it me?’ And then she turned around and she smiled and I’m like, ‘It’s me!’ I was so excited.”  

The Tangipahoa Civil Parish Library sponsors the annual contest during National Women’s History Month in March and recognizes young women who have made a difference in bettering the community. Cietutat was nominated by long-time family friend Tangipahoa Civil Parish Clerk of Court Gary Stanga. Stanga, a former member of the Ponchatoula City Council, served many years in public service alongside Cietutat’s maternal grandfather Julian Dufreche, when Dufreche was the mayor of Ponchatoula and again when Dufreche was the clerk of court. Dufreche passed away two years ago.  

“Cietutat is a unique child,” laughed Stanga. “I’ve never seen a youngster that would get up in front of a crowd, whether it be at church or some kind of function or whatever, and she would talk or sing or whatever. And, she’s always been very outgoing. I know her grandfather’s heart would have been jumping out of his chest with pride.”  

Through her involvement in the 4-H Club at St. Joseph, Cietutat has racked up a number of awards and ribbons. For the past two years, she won the state title for public speaking. This year, her presentation on food safety when cooking a turkey earned her the 2019 State 4-H Commodity Turkey Ambassador Division 1. And that’s no small potatoes considering she doesn’t really know how to cook a turkey. No matter, she gets plenty of help in the kitchen thanks to her grandmothers.  

“I like to cook a lot of things but it depends on the (4-H) division,” explained Cietutat, who has won numerous ribbons for cookery. “I do all the categories but I really like the sugar and egg divisions because I can find everything in the sugar and egg (divisions) because baking is sugar.”  

She put those skills to work on a special project for the 4-H Club service project that combined charity, schoolmates and her love for animals. The project, “Cause for Paws,” collected items and money for the Tangipahoa Civil Parish Animal Shelter and Summer’s Animal Rescue. SAR is a program set up by Denise Allen in honor of her daughter Summer Ranae Allen, an animal control officer who died in 2015. Allen is a co-worker of Cietutat’s mother, Strader.  

“So they set up a little fund where they get money for people who can’t afford all the adoption fees and the food,” said Cietutat. “They give them that stuff.”  

With permission from the school, Cietutat distributed flyers announcing the fundraiser and offered cupcakes to the class that donated the most items or money.  

“Well, we ended up having four winners,” said an enthusiastic Cietutat. “We got a lot of stuff, and we also gave $75 to SAR.”  

With a wide variety of interests and energy, it’s easy to see how she can stand out in a crowd. Her fast-paced speech can take you from one interesting topic to a completely different one in one sentence. Fittingly, she has a pet Roborovski hamster, or robo hamster, which is considered the smallest and fastest of any hamster. His name is Basil.  

“And the next one, if it’s a boy, I’m going to name it Oregano and the next one, if it’s girl, I’m going to name it Parsley,” she said quickly when asked about her pet.  

Cietutat and her family, which includes her father Johnny, Strader and 15-year-old sister Helena, attend St. Joseph Church in Ponchatoula. According to her mother, Cietutat recognized St. Teresa of Calcutta and Anne Frank as being two women she respects and admires during her acceptance speech for her award.  

“I’m very, very proud of her,” said Strader. “She’s following in my father’s footsteps. We’re like, ‘She’s the next politician in the family.’ She is so much like my dad. She loves to meet new people. She loves being in front of a crowd. She has a very good heart. Someone once told me, ‘You know, Gabriella always makes you feel so good.’ ”  

For now Cietutat is very busy. She just planted oregano and basil seeds and hopes to use the herbs for cooking. She also creates tiny dollhouses out of used cardboard boxes and she is reading her assigned summer reading book for school. As for the future, the rising sixth-grader has her sights on the lead part in the school play, “The Little Mermaid.”  

“I want to get Ariel so bad so I’ve been practicing with my sister who’s also a very good singer, who likes to play on her piano,” said Cietutat.