Maddy Miller
Maddy Miller
People often discuss giving back as something they need, have or want to do, but St. Mary’s Academy senior Maddy Miller sees things differently. For her, volunteering with youth at a local elementary school and a domestic violence shelter is something she gets to do.

“I feel privileged and honored that I get to work with the kids that I do because they’re some of the strongest people I’ve ever met,” the 17-year-old Portland resident said.

Miller will be recognized for her service efforts on Feb. 7, at the 12th Annual Heart of the Community Awards. Hands On Greater Portland and the Portland Trail Blazers will present Miller with the Nathan Sibell Youth Leadership Award at a ceremony at the Governor Hotel.

Miller was nominated for the award by Tim Schulze from Harrison Park School and PDX Summer School and Choya Adkison-Stevens from the YWCA of Greater Portland — both organizations where she regularly volunteers.

Miller met Schultze in 2011 while volunteering for PDX Summer School, a nonprofit he started to provide tutoring for low-income English Language Learners over summer break. Since then, she’s volunteered at Harrison Park, where he teaches fifth grade.

Twice a week during her free period, Miller buses across town to help in Schulze’s classroom. Miller is nearly fluent in Spanish and uses her linguistic skills to coach English Language Learners. After students are dismissed for the day, Miller stays at Harrison Park to work in the SUN (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods) School. There she provides homework help and leads athletic, music and craft activities.

“Maddy has an ability to engage students in a way that few can. Harrison Park and PDX Summer School are lucky to have such a committed, smart and compassionate person as Maddy to be a wonderful role model for our students,” Schulze said in his nomination.

Miller is equally committed to her work with the YWCA of Greater Portland’s Yolanda House, a shelter for survivors of domestic violence. She learned about the opportunity in a social justice class led by Maria Fleming, student service coordinator and religion teacher at St. Mary’s.

Miller and her mother, Karla Wenzel, both completed the YWCA’s 36-hour Advocacy Training Program last summer. Since then, Miller has volunteered weekly at Yolanda House. She plays with the kids and helps them with activities such as making friendship bracelets. She also organizes the closet of donated clothing and has encouraged her St. Mary’s friends to donate apparel to the shelter.

“Maddy’s incisive mind and caring heart are an immense asset to our community. She is making a significant difference in the lives of children at the shelter. Her analysis of systemic social issues is truly on point, and I know she will go far in her efforts and determination to (ensure) justice and well-being for all,” Adkison-Stevens wrote in her nomination.

Growing up, Miller saw the spirit of volunteerism modeled by her parents. She credits them with encouraging her community activism. Miller also gives credit to Fleming and the culture at St. Mary’s.

“I think that giving back is part of St. Mary’s. You can see that just by looking at all the students who, with everything on their plates, make it a priority. Volunteering is something that’s encouraged and loved and appreciated here,” she said.