Annie Kelly, a senior at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, attends daily Mass several mornings a week at Our Lady of Visitation Parish in Darnestown, Maryland. She joins a small crowd of other early risers who have become a tight-knit community.

“I enjoy it because it is calming,” she said. “I come to school rejuvenated. It is something I need to do to feel at peace.”

Kelly is very involved in the Girl Scouts and served as the teen member of the board of the Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital during her junior year. This year, she earned her Girl Scout Gold Award – the highest award a Girl Scout can earn – by refurbishing the St. Thomas More Chapel at her parish, which she has spent so many mornings in.

She spent more than 80 hours re-painting the chapel, re-tiling the ceilings, re-carpeting the chapel, and polishing and reupholstering the chairs, using money that she had raised through activities in Girl Scouts (like cookie sales) and through donations from people in the parish.

“I like being a part of my parish community and being an active member,” she said, adding that through her project she was able to connect with people who she hadn’t connected with before, such as the parish’s women’s group.

Kelly said she has stuck with Girl Scouts through high school, even though most people stop at a much younger age, because she likes seeing her projects make a difference.

“Being able to give back to the community and seeing my hard work pay off…seeing the projects actually benefit the community is the most amazing thing I could have asked for,” she said.

In addition to giving back to the community, Girl Scouts has given her opportunities to explore, such as her troop’s recent hiking trip in Europe. Kelly said the girls in her troop, which began when they were all students at Mary of Nazareth in Darnestown, have become some of her closest friends.

At Stone Ridge, Kelly also leads a student group that she started her freshman year, called “Hope for the Holidays,” where students complete service projects themed around different holidays throughout the year, such as Operation Christmas Child, where the students packed shoeboxes with gifts for children around the world.

Next year, Kelly will be attending the University of Denver, where she will study environmental economics and finance, and will be on a pre-law track. She received a scholarship from Girl Scouts to put toward her college tuition.

Kelly became interested in practicing intellectual property law during an internship she did at the TechShop in Arlington. She was around a lot of people making new inventions, but because they did not patent them, they ended up seeing what they had made on TV, created by someone else.

“I realized it is important to protect your ideas,” she said.

While doing that internship, Kelly and her friend, Catherine Heming, came up with an idea of their own, and founded a company called Kataganese, named after a flower that grows by metal mines in South America. Kelly and her friend make jewelry out of metal clay, and donate 20 percent of their profits to Pact World, an organization that gives back to the mining communities in South America and Africa where the clay comes from.

“We wanted it to be that we were giving back to the people who were giving to us,” she said.

Through opportunities like the TechShop, which Stone Ridge helped her set up, Kelly said the school has “helped me figure out what I want to do with my life,” by learning that she likes to write and to do independent projects. Kelly also went on exchange to a Sacred Heart School in Italy, where she experienced a lot of the same traditions they have at Stone Ridge.

“It hit me that I am a part of a larger network,” she said. “It makes me feel that I have a sense of security; that I’ll always be part of something.”

Kelly said her faith provides her with a similar feeling. In addition to giving her hope, she said, “my faith allows me to be a part of a community that is larger than the people around me or that I got to school with.”

Though she appreciates that large faith community, Kelly is still going to miss the people at her parish – especially the older women who she has become friends with while attending daily Mass.

“We always have nice conversations about their grandchildren,” she said. “I know more about the ’50s than I thought I’d ever know.”

Just as school was about to start one year, she was running out of time to get her uniform skirt hemmed, and was praying during Mass that she would find someone to help her with it. Afterward, one of the women at Mass, named Rosemary, came up to her to ask if she had gotten her skirts hemmed yet, and offered to do it for her.

“I would have never expected anyone to help me out like that and she did,” said Kelly. “It was so nice.”

Rosemary also brings snacks for after Mass every Thursday, and drops off recipes for Kelly every week. Kelly has already made most of the recipes – such as lemon bars and snickerdoodle cookies – and she plans to bring them all with her to college.

“I think I’m going to miss them so much,” said Kelly, who noted that she had cried a lot on her last day of school thinking about missing her friends at Stone Ridge, but said, “I think I’m going to cry more on my last day of daily Mass.”

As she gets ready to find a new local faith community in college, Kelly hopes her Gold Award project will help the one she is leaving behind by helping people “to feel more connected to God because they feel more comfortable going to Mass.”