A PUBLICATION OF WESTERN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
The Commons Fresh Energy in the Friendship House It’s not every day that the students, staff and faculty belt out “Father Abraham” in chapel, but when the Friendship House friends help lead the service, anything can happen! This year marks a shift in the integration of Friendship House into the life of the seminary. Deliberate steps are being taken to increase interactions with the friends and to create more opportunities to learn from them. Eighteen seminary students share the Ralph and Cheryl Schregardus Friendship House with six young adults (“friends”) with cognitive disabilities. The residence has six apartment pods and one shared recreation space. When it was built in 2007, it was the first of its kind in the country, and by all accounts it is thriving. “Our kids have grown immensely. They’ve exceeded all testing measured by Hope College’s professors,” says Deb Sterken, speaking on behalf of the friends’ parents. “My son, Rob, is enjoying people and getting out. He is maturing, and his language continues to exceed expectations.” Over the years as the friends have benefited from the arrangement, the seminary students living with them have gained insights into ministering to those with disabilities and to their families. The new director, Melissa Conner, and newly appointed resident advisor Dan DeVries, a third-year student, are bringing fresh energy to Friendship House. Their goal is to expand its impact beyond the 18 seminary students who live there. Melissa is hosting monthly potlucks open to the entire seminary community. Dan has led chapel with the friends and hopes to
Friendship House kicks off the year with a celebration.
Friendship House residents lead the singing of “Father Abraham” in chapel, Oct. 2.
have them participate more. They are inviting professors to enter the friends’ space and lead devotions on Sunday evenings. Friend resident Amanda Kragt is taking Hebrew with Professor Tom Boogaart, and the class dynamic has strengthened since “Lyla” (Amanda’s Hebrew name) joined. “I said to the class ‘aloo!’ (literally ‘go up’) and the students got on their chairs,” Dr. Boogaart explains. “But Lyla is a little unsteady and I thought ‘oh no!’ Yet immediately two of the students took her hand and helped her up onto her chair.” Including Amanda has created a much deeper sense of what it means to be together and do life together. Amanda loves the class and is very proud to call herself a student at WTS. “The role of student is a valued social role, and she knows that,” explains Professor of Discipleship Ben Conner. “It also puts her in
Amanda (“Lyla”) ponders an assignment in Hebrew class.