HC STUDENTS VOLUNTEER

Often they started showing up because someone told them they had to. They had to pick a place to volunteer as an athletic team. They had to get a certain number of volunteer hours to graduate. Or they had to climb on the bus that day, get dropped off wherever their group and leader were taking them. Not always a lot of choices there.

But the incredible story lies in the fact that just being there, volunteering their youthful time and talents in a place and need somewhere in their community, often changes hearts and voices, opens eyes and doors, broadens horizons that our HCS students didn’t even know could be there. That’s one reason among many why Holland Christian requires volunteer hours, mandates spending time and services in our community, from preschool through 12th grade.

Last May for 8th Grade Service Day, HCMS Language Arts teacher Lisa Lundy had an interesting mix of 8th grade students to take to Benjamin’s Hope—a group that probably never hung out together, and here she was supposed to make them weed minuscule blueberry bushes, shovel llama manure, and haul hay. All on a warm May day, when everyone had summer vacation fever, and didn’t necessarily want to be there, much less scoop the poop?

But Lisa recalls it as a magical time, where “Jesus was with us,” she said. “That day in the blueberry bushes, we witnessed kids opening up in ways they hadn’t before, vulnerable ways, all while digging weeds, and supporting each other, being open in new ways. Our hope is each student has the chance to realize the life-giving act of serving, and the community that is created when we serve together.”

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Our hope is each student has the chance to realize the life-giving act of serving, and the community that is created when we serve together.

A few years ago, when Pine Ridge was reviewing the Holland Christian Discipleship practices, they came to the “Servant Living” practices, and “realized that ‘Servant Living’ isn’t just a talk about—it’s a do,” Pine Ridge 6th grade teacher Katie Boer said. So they contacted several different non-profit organizations in the area that kids from Pine Ridge could help, and visit with their school-wide small groups throughout the year.

When they volunteer, Pine Ridge kids fill upwards of 700 bags of Chex Mix for Kids Food Basket, pull weeds at 8th Day Farm, break down boxes and restock pantries at the Community Action House. “These organizations do this every day, and we’re peeking in at what they do,” Katie said. Each year, Pine Ridge is committed to going back to these same organizations, and sometimes kids go back with their families on weekends or during the summer. “Servant living is not just going once, it’s sustaining that relationship,” Katie said. “It’s what Jesus calls us to do—walking alongside another person is how He lived His life.”

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Most leave with an appreciation for it, realizing there are needs that they can participate in, needs in their community they can fill.

HCMS Spanish teacher Katelyn Roskamp was told by the head volleyball coach a few years back that her JV team needed to volunteer somewhere together. Katelyn wanted an organization she could invest in over the years, to build a relationship with, and chose the Holland Rescue Mission, working primarily with their after school program for elementary kids. Three to four times a season her teams skipped practice to tutor kids there: “The girls enjoyed it and had a ton of fun playing games with the kids,” she said. Eventually middle school siblings heard about it, and begged to go with Katelyn after school, on their own time, so she did that several times and eventually added it into the HCMS Exploratory Week, as one of the most popular selections with students.

She said there’s value in students finding out what they don’t want to especially do for possible careers or volunteer experiences. “There’s super value in that too—some 8th graders are like, what are we doing? But most leave with an appreciation for it, realizing there are needs that they can participate in, needs in their community they can fill,” Katelyn said.

Early Saturday mornings throughout the winter basketball season, bleary-eyed high school basketball players show up at Pine Ridge and HCHS gyms to coach and run the Little Maroons basketball program for boys and girls in 1st-6th grades, hugging and high-fiving the kids as they enter. Maybe some of them do it because they need the mandatory hours to graduate, but most do it simply because they remember how much they appreciated and adored “the big kids” when they were the Little Maroons themselves.

“They always tell me how much they get out of it, they remember the excitement they felt when they were young,” said HCHS boys basketball coach David Kool. “It’s servant-leadership at its finest— showing up at 8 am after a late game the night before.”

Besides running the Little Maroons girls program, the girls varsity basketball team chooses an organization outside HCS to volunteer at as well, and for the last two years served a few “team” dinners at Compassionate Heart: “I know, I require a lot—but it keeps them out of trouble!” laughed girls varsity coach Heather Swierenga ’06. “Basketball is a platform to serve not just ourselves, but our community! It’s an opportunity to think beyond ourselves and use our community as a basketball team to connect with a different team and community, for us both to benefit.”

HCHS students are required to volunteer 10 hours outside of school functions each year, accumulating a minimum of 40 volunteer hours to graduate. A few struggle with it, honestly. Others wipe out the full year’s worth with a mission trip through church, or helping to lead VBS somewhere, maybe helping run HCS’s summer camps. But then some go on to volunteer more on their own. Take Levi Smith ’19, for example: Even though he’s accumulated the mandatory hours long ago, every Tuesday from 3-8 pm he volunteers at Compassionate Heart Ministries in Zeeland, hanging out with the people there, playing basketball or serving supper with them. “I just like the way they treat me— they always love you for being you,” he said. “You can always be yourself. Every time you come back, it’s like you’ve been gone for years, and they’re so excited to see you.”

Last year, another Compassionate Heart volunteer and HCHS student, Cam Houck ’20, was awarded the Adam Winstrom Friendship award by the organization for the way he used his gifts and time to “just love on these people and be a friend to everyone,” explained his mom, Pam Arnold-Houck. “What basically started out as a place to volunteer and get service hours turned into so much more for him!” she said. “He admittedly was a bit nervous and didn’t really want to do it at first, but after his first day spending time with this group of participants he was hooked. He couldn’t wait to go back and volunteer more! I truly believe God used this to grab hold of Cam’s heart—he witnessed a genuine love for life and God in these participants.”

We’ve seen service hours and volunteering bless so many over the years, that we’re even prescribing it for our preschoolers. “What can a four-year-old bring to a place of need in our community?” asked South Side preschool teachers and their principal, Miska Rynsburger ’92, before plugging in to the Memory Unit at Resthaven. Once a week, South Side four-yearolds visit their buddy grandparents there, helping to serve snacks, find canes, tell stories, all in all cheering up their buddy grandparent carefully matched up to them. “They understand pretty quickly that they bring joy and hands and heart to a grandma,” Miska said. “And the grandma is so eager to listen, is very interested in everything a four-year-old has to say, and has all the time in the world.”

“When you [volunteer] at four, at five, it starts to become the fabric of who you are. My hope is that it feels wrong to live life without that, because they’re doing it with their formative years,” Miska continued. “When we’re called to serve in the world, it isn’t just an obligatory, ‘Here, let me give you money.’ We’re serving and engaging in an authentic relationship—it’s mutual. We’ve been called to engage in the world—if we don’t do this, we’re not bringing the gospel.”

When you [volunteer] at four, at five, it starts to become the fabric of who you are. My hope is that it feels wrong to live life without that, because they’re doing it with their formative years.

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