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Wedgwood Christian Services Traces 60-year Heritage

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Cutline No. 1 Jean  Jim BoelkinsJim Boelkins with his mother, Jean, who co-founded Wedgwood Christian Services when it was known as The Christian Home for Boys.Wedgwood Christian Services (WCS) is celebrating its 60th anniversary thanks to two women who firmly believed there was a better way to reform boys who were placed in the juvenile detention system.

LaGrave Christian Reformed Church members Jean Boelkins and Dorothy Huizenga decided in 1960 to launch The Christian Home for Boys, and make it a place that would provide grace-filled care and hope.

"They asked their pastor, Jacob Eppinga, to tour this facility and find out what it looks like it in," says Vivian TerMaat, WCS's chief advancement officer "He went there and he couldn't sleep for two nights. 'It was miserable,' was his words. Jean and Dorothy said, 'Let's come up with something better and staff it ourselves and have a healthy home life and teach them basic skills to succeed in life and talk about their faith.

"That was their thinking. They saw this need and purchased a home in 1960 in Wyoming and that was the first step."

WCS's first home provided a place for pre-teen and teen-aged boys because, at that age adoption was unlikely, and their trauma made it difficult for them to fit into a foster home. Today, Wedgwood's residential program still cares for this same group, providing treatment that not only helps them heal, but equips them for success in foster homes, independent living and college.

Eventually, The Christian Home for Boys and Christian Youth Home for girls merged to become Wedgwood Acres Christian Youth Homes. It was renamed Wedgwood Christian Services in 2002.

Ahead of the curve

Cutline No. 2-3aaaaaFounding board members in 1962"There were folks at Calvary Church who happened to volunteer at a downtown Youth for Christ rally and they had no idea there were lost teens," TerMaat says. "They got together and developed in1961 a home for girls at Fountain Street. Eventually the two homes got together for lost kids who need parental figures. Those two were combined in 1970 and at that time they talked about a whole person philosophy, their physical and spiritual health. They were really ahead of the curve."

Sixty years later, Boelkins and Huizenga's vision is known as Wedgwood Christian Services, a life-changing nonprofit human service agency that continues to provide children and teens a safe place to heal from trauma and move toward hopeful futures.

A 60th anniversary celebration is planned Oct. 14 at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

Sin against more than sinned

Cutline No. 3-1aaaaaaFirst home for boys in 1962"Although trained in social work at Calvin College and Michigan State, mom was fundamentally a stay-at-home mom for three boys," says James Boelkins, Jean Boelkins' son and retired Hope College provost and former Wedgwood board chairman. "Still, she cared deeply for young boys who were caught up in a less than just juvenile detention system in Grand Rapids. She believed that these boys had been sinned against more than they had sinned, and they needed to be in a structured home environment instead of the juvenile detention center."

Services provided

To date, WCS has positively impacted the lives of over 350,000 in West Michigan. It has a staff of 400 and an annual budget of $20 million. It offers a myriad of programming and services, including outpatient counseling, occupational therapy, prevention services and youth development programming, early intervention services for children with autism spectrum disorder, and education about and training to combat sexual exploitation and trafficking.

WCS recently hired Dan Gowdy as its president and chief executive officer, following the retirement of Randy Zylstra, who provided more than 25 years of service to Wedgwood.

Cutline No. 4-1aaaaaaVivian TerMaat: “Our philosophy is to operate by grace.”Gowdy said he hired on at Wedgwood because its reputation for helping children, youth and families precedes itself, due to its effectual programs.

"Working alongside talented and dedicated professionals that give God credit for these excellent results is both an honor and privilege," Gowdy says.

As society has changed over the past 60 years, the issues facing vulnerable children and teens have become more complex but what remains constant is the quality of care and commitment to transforming lives through God's grace.

Children are given the opportunity to attend optional worship weekly services, to participate in Bible studies.

Operates by grace

"We have 85 to 95 percent participation rate," TerMaat says. "They realize it has value to them. We have had baptisms because they ask one of our pastors, 'What does that mean?' and they have conservations with them. We leave it to them if they see a pastor.

"Our philosophy is to operate by grace," TerMaat adds. "We give that to you (clients). There's nothing you've done that will be held against you. We care for you and we offer you that limitless grace. We've had kids who've been in other placements who say, 'Wow, this place is different.' They work to protect themselves; that's what they've learned after years in the system. Our direct care staff will say, 'I'm still here for you.' When they learn nobody gave up on me because I've had grace provided to me. That's what differentiates Wedgwood.

"We live it out."


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Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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