York student turns passion for helping others into homegrown nonprofit

December 05, 2014

Three years ago, Aida Santos, a senior at Penn State York, was attending a Sunday school program at her church, and was inspired by the message being delivered: help others.

“It was a like a light bulb went off in my head, and I decided there was a way to make a difference in my community,” said Santos.

She and her cousin Keyrilis Arenas, a student at Penn State Harrisburg, decided they wanted to start an organization, Open Heart Lending A Helping Hand, to collect and deliver personal hygiene items and school supplies to homeless people and others in need. The project began with Santos driving her minivan, filled with personal hygiene items in the back, around York and delivering them to people in need. The items had the perfect price tag -- free.  

“I decided to focus on personal hygiene items because there are really no resources for people to obtain them free,” she said. Funding is available for food and clothing but not for personal hygiene items, which are critical to keeping people healthy.

The project has grown from a one-woman show consisting of Santos delivering items from the back of her van, to a community partnership, as she works with area agencies and nonprofit organizations to get these items to those in need. With the support of her family, Santos was able to establish an at-home storage and office space where she can organize the supplies. She has been doing this while attending classes and working toward a degree in human development and family studies, which she will receive Friday, Dec. 19, at Penn State York’s commencement.

This weekend, Santos is hosting an event, the Open Heart Lending A Helping Hand Fundraising Fair, which provides an opportunity for people to donate money, personal hygiene items, and/or school supplies that will eventually make their way into the hands of people who need help in the local community. This event is a part of her senior project at Penn State York, under the guidance of faculty member JeanMarie St. Clair-Christman, instructor and field coordinator in human development and family studies (HD FS). The fundraising fair, from noon to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, at the Door of Salvation Church, 325 Mulberry St., York, features prizes, music, food and an opportunity to visit booths and learn more about businesses in the community. Cost for the fair is $5 or five educational or personal hygiene items.

“Aida has gone far beyond what she needs to do for her internship and senior project,” said St. Clair-Christman.  “She has become a resource to nonprofit organizations in York County and is doing amazing work.”

In addition to the work she is doing for Open Heart, Santos has been working as an intern at Family Group Decision Making in York since August. Part of her responsibilities includes reviewing cases, family conferences and determining needs. Working in this internship has also made her aware of the resources available to York families. She completes her internship Dec. 12, just a week before she graduates.

Santos, 23, a native of Puerto Rico, came to York in January 2002 and had to learn English. She had to overcome many obstacles and is very familiar with the needs of the people she currently works to help. Both of her parents are ministers, and from a young age she learned the importance of helping others, working with a purpose and caring about people. Turning Open Heart into a full-fledged nonprofit organization is Santos’ ultimate goal and she hopes to eventually be able to do just that as she focuses her career on helping people.

Right now Santos is looking toward commencement and she may have several hundred people in the crowd cheering for her. Members of her church, family, friends, and students and faculty from Penn State York have been included in her invitation list to the big event at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, at Penn State York.

There’s no question, Santos is making a difference.

  • Aida Santos 2014

    Aida Santos, a senior at Penn State York, has a passion for helping people and has created an organization, Open Heart Lending A Helping Hand, that provides free personal hygiene products and school supplies to people who are homeless or in need.

    IMAGE: Barbara Dennis
Last Updated December 05, 2014