Volleyball’s Sophie Hackett: A Big, Fair Servant’s Heart

The Uno card game extravaganza was approaching its third hour and still Sophie Hackett slammed down a draw-four wild card with the same good-natured competitiveness she had in hour one. Her opponent for marathon Uno — a 13-year-old boy who was receiving treatment on the hematology and oncology floor of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids — seemed unperturbed. That’s all part of the game, he knows, a move from his opponent both expected and necessary, just like the chemotherapy he must undergo. Expected and necessary. For now.

So, he goes back to playing the hand he’s been dealt, and then plays another and another, and Hackett remains by his side, encouraging him one treatment day and card game at a time.

And that’s the way it is for child life volunteers like Hackett, a senior social work major who is also the setter on Hope College’s volleyball team. They strive to make the hospital experience for young patients as mentally engaging and emotionally stable as possible. Some days Uno is the ticket; other days it’s arts and crafts.

But whatever a child chooses to play, Hackett comes right alongside, helping to distract children from the pain and other harsh realities they feel. It’s tough stuff, to be in a hospital where young people are suffering so much. For most, it would be unbearably uncomfortable. Yet, for Hackett, she feels she has no other choice but to help.

“I never really thought not (helping others) was an option,” says Hackett, whose hometown is Indianapolis, Indiana. “Many of us are born with privileges. It could the privilege of money or health or education. So, I think that it’s our responsibility to use our privilege in the best way we can to help other people who don’t have those privileges… I work with kids at DeVos Children’s Hospital who don’t have the privilege of health. They may never have that privilege. So if I can use my time to help them feel a little bit better, then that’s something I want to do.”

And help she does and not just in a hospital setting. During her time at Hope, Hackett has also tutored for the Children’s After School Achievement (CASA) program, built homes for Holland’s Habitat for Humanity, raised money and stayed awake for 24 hours during Dance Marathon, served as a lunch buddy for the Ready for School program, and worked as an intern for SowHope, an international non-profit organization headquartered in Grand Rapids that focuses exclusively on the holistic needs of women living in extreme poverty.

And she’s done all of this while training to be a high-level athlete playing varsity volleyball for Hope. The nationally ranked Flying Dutch play their home opener on Friday, September 8 against Olivet at 6:30 p.m. at DeVos Fieldhouse.

“From the first conversation I had with Sophie as a recruit, I could tell that she wanted to make this world a better place,” Head Coach Becky Schmidt explains. “I was struck by her maturity, that she wasn't concerned about the world serving her needs and desires, but that she was here to impact the lives of others. I think that one of the reasons she gets involved in so many volunteer activities is that she is called to act.  She would rather get in and get her hands dirty than just stand along the sidelines waiting for an invitation.  She has been that kind of player in our program, too. Sophie will have a powerful impact on this world because she is not going to wait when action is required.”

Hackett’s servant heart is a benevolent one as well. She stepped down for her child life volunteer position at DeVos Children’s Hospital due to complicated scheduling now that she is a full-time student and athlete this fall and because “I also felt that it was a good to open the position up to others who are interested in child life as a possible career so they can have experience,” she says. Once again, Hackett just can’t help but help another in need.

Next spring, when she enrolls in the Chicago Metropolitan Semester, Hackett hopes to be an intern at a teen pregnancy center. Then, after graduation from Hope in May, 2018, she anticipates entering a master’s degree in social work program with an emphasis in community development.  In every opportunity she encounters to serve people both broken and beautiful, Hackett’s empathy and sense of fairness will undoubtedly carry her through heavy and glad days.

“My pull towards service is based on my belief that all people are created equal,” she concludes. “It’s really a simple place to start.”