Pat Hoekstra: A Lifelong Commitment to Inclusion

Pat Hoekstra and granddaughters Pat Hoekstra is thankful that her twin granddaughters, Willow and Rowan, can attend school together at Zeeland Christian School.

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For Pat Hoekstra, community has always been enriched by the gifts of persons in her life who have disabilities. From an early age, to her role as a grandmother today, she has surrounded herself with people at all levels of ability and helped to unlock their gifts.

She grew up watching her cousin, Mark, who had Down syndrome, bless people by pulling them together and encouraging their faith.
“You never know how God is going to use people,” she shared. “Right up to the last minute of his life, Mark was bringing people to the Lord. We learned so much from him.”

Pat studied special education at Calvin College, and worked with students who had autism spectrum disorder. She got to know the Christian Learning Center (as All Belong was known at the time) in the 1980s when her house neighbored the Seymour Christian School building where CLC was housed. Her four children attended the school and got involved in social inclusion programs there, such as Circle of Friends. Programs like these helped students with and without disabilities build friendships through intentional programming and special events. It’s a program that now exists in many Christian schools across the country.
“God wants everyone to belong,” she shared. “So often we bring all this baggage to church or school, and people with disabilities help us cut through that, to return to the important stuff.”

She started a drama program at her church for students with disabilities to provide testimony to the Christmas story. So Pat was committed to inclusive education for persons with disabilities long before her twin granddaughters, Rowan and Willow, were born. Willow was born with spinal muscular atrophy type one, which significantly limits her movement and health. Today, she communicates mostly through her eyes and she can move her fingers slightly.

This past year, Rowan and Willow attended preschool together at Zeeland Christian School (Zeeland, MI), a blessing for which their parents were grateful. “Willow  included in everything with the other kids, which  so much to her,” shared her mom, Megan Geenan. “Zeeland Christian has been wonderful in communicating with us and in working alongside us to bring our wishes for Willow’s education into reality.”

“I’m excited to see what God has planned for Willow,” Pat reflects. “We found out about her diagnosis at the same time as my late husband, Tom’s, diagnosis. They were often holding hands, sharing their health struggles in ways only they could. And we just don’t know the ways that the Lord will use her. As her family, we are learning from her every day.”

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 “Inclusive” newsletter. Subscribe to our semi-annual newsletter here.
Elizabeth Lucas DombrowskiElizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the executive director at All Belong.