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Hands Full of Heart: More than a Day of Service


Once again, St. Mary’s Academy held Hands Full of Heart (HFOH), an event that allows seniors to leave their studies behind for a day to focus on giving back to local communities and service organizations. HFOH has taken place for over two decades and no matter how many years go by, the event’s mission always remains the same. “Hands Full of Heart is an opportunity for students to go out and connect with people who are different than they are. We want students to push out of their comfort zones so they can understand what it’s like to participate in social justice work,” said SMA’s service coordinator and alumna, Caitlin Whitty ’08.  “It puts our Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM) core values into focus. It helps us live our values as a community while showing students why we are an SNJM school in this one event that’s dedicated to justice and service to those who may be poor and marginalized,” Caitlin added.

This year, seniors departed to twelve different locations in and around the Portland metro, as far southeast as Harrison Park Elementary, to as close as First Christian Church, located just a few blocks from SMA. Mr. Rojas’ TA class was at First Christian Church this year, helping by organizing donated clothes, preparing meals, and setting up lunch service for that day.

Seniors in Mr. Rojas’ TA class including Yerly Montgomery-Brynes said HFOH is more than just a day of service outside of SMA’s campus walls. “I’ve always been someone w­ho likes to help people whether it’s here or somewhere else,” said Yerly. She added not only is HFOH a time to give back to the community but also an opportunity to spread gratitude and show kindness to others no matter her or his background. “I was born in Columbia and I was adopted before coming to the U.S. I feel like I went from having nearly nothing to having a lot and I’ve always been aware of that, so I always know it’s a privilege when I’m able to give back.” Yerly said ever since her first year at SMA, the importance of service was instilled in her and has remained an influence in her life. “I volunteer here at First Christian Church every Saturday to help serve breakfast and once I graduate from SMA I plan to take a gap year to travel to South America to volunteer at their orphanages,” Yerly added.

One of the administrators at First Christian Church said she is always appreciative of the helping hands they have each year. “It’s amazing and beautiful. The fact that students come for Hands Full of Heart then fall in love with what we’re doing and continue to do it in the future, that makes it all worth it,” said co-director of Clay Street Table, Denise Smith. “We’re creating a leadership group for the next generation, and we feel to help them better understand certain issues society is dealing with, exposing them to individuals facing those specific issues is sometimes what’s missing in the conversation,” Denise added.

SMA’s service coordinator Caitlin Whitty added her experience at SMA contributed to her desire to pursue a career in service upon graduating. “My education at SMA definitely sparked a fire for social justice for me when I was a student. Because of the incredible SMA education and exposure to so many service opportunities, I wanted to help students who may not otherwise have similar opportunities and that really cemented my desire to work for justice as a career, before landing here at SMA.”

Though HFOF takes place twice a year for sophomores and seniors only, SMA has tentative plans to add freshmen to the roster this coming spring.