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Boise State professor leads group to make medals for St. Luke’s frontline workers

Some examples of the medals created by the Hand Medal Project.
By Dave Southorn, News and Community
December 9, 2020

Many people in the community want to help those fighting COVID-19 at St. Luke’s, but they must do their work in isolation.

So, even a little show of support can help, including giving them a hand – literally.

Boise State art professor Anika Smulovitz, the head of the university’s jewelry and metalsmithing program, recently spearheaded an effort to make and create hand-shaped medals to give to frontline workers.

Smulovitz, plus two students and four alumni, made 80 of the medals. St. Luke’s community engagement coordinator Marcia Gronsdahl, who has taken art classes at Boise State over the last several years, organized a safe delivery to the Boise hospital.

Respiratory therapist Niki Howard's medal.

“We’re just so grateful for all the work they are doing, and this was just our own small way of saying thank you,” Smulovitz said.

The Hand Medal Project is a worldwide effort that began in April to show health care workers their work is appreciated. They have been created and distributed in about 50 countries thus far.

Initially, Smulovitz was aware of the project, but she was amidst a shift to remote instruction. For a hands-on subject, it took some time, putting together demo videos, tool kits, and even being on a webcam while students used the studio.

But as the pandemic continued into October, she saw the health care challenges every day through her husband, who works at a senior care facility. As case numbers rose, she continued to hear the stories of frontline workers.

“Knowing what everyone is going through, I just really wanted to do whatever I could to show my gratitude,” Smulovitz said.

The medals made their way to St. Luke’s recently. Nancy Kerns, a respiratory therapist, got one in the first week of December.

She noticed that each hand-shaped medal had a number on the back, and one could look up who created it on the Hand Medal Project website. Smulovitz made hers. As a Boise State graduate, Kerns was deeply touched.


RT Rachael Tart displays her medal. 

“This seemed like the simplest of gestures but during this time of crisis it really tugged at my heartstrings,” Kerns said.  “I literally sat at my kitchen table and sobbed. … I felt that during these scary days, someone was truly thankful for me, a small little metal hand that is reaching out to remind me that there is still a lot of goodness in humanity.”

For Smulovitz, she was happy to just let St. Luke’s hospital workers know they are appreciated. But it wasn’t until she heard from people like Kerns that the impact struck her, the scope of a little act.

She couldn’t walk right in and give thanks, or the favor could be returned. Working with COVID-19 patients means being isolated, fighting a terrible virus, yet knowing not everyone on the outside takes it seriously.

Even a small gift, a bit of recognition, can mean a lot and create the sort of connection that can be tough to find right now.

“I didn’t think about that part, but it’s particularly important right now to have that, for them to know they’re appreciated,” Smulovitz said.

About The Author

Dave Southorn works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.