Student and Alumni Stories
Being Different and Enjoying It
The memories I have from when I was young all come from conflict. My mom and dad were never together. My mom was never home and every few years she had a different boyfriend. I was the middle child, but felt like the oldest. My older brother was schizophrenic, and my older sister lived with my aunt, so I was the only one home that could care for my younger siblings. Despite that, we never shared a special bond. They always let me know that I was “different.”
I had a hard time surviving school. I was bullied and lonely. I was surrounded by people I couldn’t trust who spent their time smoking and drinking. I started having suicidal thoughts.
Through the help of Urban Family Ministries, I moved in with a kind man named Dan. He could tell I wasn’t doing well and he had me spend two weeks at Pine Rest. I returned to school, and the depression returned as well. Dan thought that sending me to The Potter’s House would help, and in the middle of my eighth grade year I transferred schools.
People there were friendly, and it was weird to me. Every time someone walked toward me I wanted to say, “Get away from me.” I thought they were a little nosey. I made some friends but still struggled. I began spending most of my days sitting in Mr. Booy’s office, reading and talking to him about how angry I was with God and my family for putting me through so much trauma.
One of my greatest struggles was always feeling different. Things changed when I came to The Potter’s House. It’s a diverse place. Being here I saw that differences were celebrated and now I enjoy being different.
When I tell my story, many people ask, “How are you not in a gang or on drugs?” My answer is, “I don’t really know.” I believe being heard has been key to my healing. The Potter’s House is a good place to be when you’ve hit rock bottom. The people here are like trampolines, they bounce you back up.
This year I started researching the effects of child care in impoverished communities. I took a childcare class at KCTC, and I am a childcare worker at Roosevelt Park Ministries. Even though I love working with kids, my dream is music. I write lyrics and play guitar. I am fluent in Spanish, and incorporate that into my music. I have been accepted into Adrian College and I plan to study music there this fall.
We thank God for all He has done in Dearis’s life. We are grateful for the generosity of folks like you, who alot us the opportunity to serve students and their families, bouncing them out of discord into harmony.
This week, a few of our elementary/middle school students were honored at the debut of a new project called, Grand Poems in Rapid Transit.
Kate Staggs and Malachi Verwys are two of the six students honored. Their haiku will be placed inside 150 Rapid buses. Jacob Caballero, Lyvinia Anible, Julienne Sinzumunsi, Natalie Waalkes, Bethany Klop, Sofia Brinkerhoff, and Tori Jansma received honorable mention. Their haiku were mounted on posters and displayed at the kick-off event on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, at The Rapids Central Station.
The project explained
The project was organized by Lew S. Klatt, Grand Rapids Poet Laureate and Associate Professor of English at Calvin College. He did it in collaboration with The Rapid, Grand Rapids Public Library, and the following schools and afterschool programs: Creative Youth Center, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities Cook Center, Living Stones Academy, Camp Blodgett Club at Alpine Elementary, and The Potter’s House.
Students participated in poetry workshops and each received a photo from the historical archive at the Grand Rapids Public Library that featured transportation in Michigan from the past 100 years. Students were asked to describe what they saw and they took those descriptions and turned them into haiku, which is a Japanese form of poetry that follows a 5 syllable, 7 syllable, 5 syllable pattern.
We are very proud of the accomplishments of our students. The next time you ride the Rapid, be sure to look for Kate and Malachi’s haikus.
It’s always a great joy when alumni, on their own initiative, share with the school the impact that The Potter’s House has made in their lives. I would like to share a couple of recent statements from one of our former students, Kjh-Lajhni Sanford.
An excerpt from Kjh-Lajhni’s Facebook post:
“As I sit in the Detroit airport waiting for my flight to DC, I can’t help but think about the many people who have helped to get me to where I am today and helped to prepare me for the opportunities that I am getting ready to have. Some of the first names that come to mind are my many teachers at the Potter’s House (Miss Beth Vander Kolk, Mrs. Ritter, Mrs. Yeo, Mrs.Hudgins-Jones, Miss Betsey, and many other support staff, teachers, and my sponsor Dr. Abiade) who encouraged me to do my best in everything, to reach out for help when needed, how to give a firm handshake, and to find the beauty in the trial.”
|Kjh-Lajhni’s grateful post was followed up by an extremely thoughtful, and much more detailed letter, reflecting on her time here. Read on:
“I attended Potter’s House K-9. During my time there I was dealing with understanding what it meant to have divorced parents who are remarrying and having kids. It was a stressful time for me and I never fully understood the adult world. The teachers that I had, from Mrs. VanderArk to Mrs. Sisco, and everyone in between, all took their time to see me as more than just the student with the weird name. Most of the teachers that I encountered in my time at Potter’s House taught me small lessons that completely changed my world, and I still find those words to be what keeps me standing in times of stress and need.
For example, Mrs. Ritter would always tell me, “It’s not the end of the world” and this morning while flying to DC, it felt like my world was ending because of the extreme changes I was getting ready to make in my life.
As I scoured for new places to apply I would remember Mrs. Jones telling me “You’re thinking too hard.” It was in this memory that I knew that God already knew where I was meant to intern I just had to follow his guidance and within days I received my internship placement.
One of the most important lessons that I learned at Potter’s House was how to give a handshake and have the confidence to look someone in the eye. This lesson has carried me through the many jobs that I have had, and set me apart in interviews from other candidates.
I am to this day an excessive planner, but now I know that my plans will only work so long as they align with God’s plan for me. I know that the work the teachers do at Potter’s House is not in vain, and I am always willing to stake claim to my time at Potter’s House. I learned so much that has brought me so far. A few moments ago I was talking with my Grandmother (who has been my sole legal guardian since I was 4) about my time at Potter’s House. We both agreed in saying that Potter’s House made me who I am, with the values that I have and that is the greatest gift a school can offer. But the best thing is that The Potter’s House doesn’t take the credit, instead they give it back the mighty creator who allowed for these experiences to occur. My time since Potter’s House has been as bumpy as it was before, but I lean on the lessons and guidance that the teachers of The Potter’s House gave to me.”
When I think of Kjh-Lajhni, I always think of her vivacious personality and I think of her grandmother who worked endless hours volunteering at the school. Today Kjh-Lajhni is a senior at Calvin College studying International Relations. She will be completing her degree in May. We are proud of Kjh-Lajhni and are grateful for the time that she took to look back and give such kind and thankful words for our teachers and school. She informed us that she will be looking for employment with a non-profit, or an organization that works with children who come to the US illegally. We have no doubt that she will do well, whatever path she takes.
Pull out your cell phone, tape a 10-90 second video and send it in to: firstname.lastname@example.org!
WHY DO YOU WANT ME TO DO THIS?
Your videos will encourage our teachers and staff, and as time goes by, we will also use these videos to be an encouragement to our donors, and to spread the word about The Potter’s House. You may be invited to share your story at one of our banquets! We are proud of you, and it will be very meaningful to us to know what and how you are doing.
WHERE SHOULD I FILM IT?
Please videotape yourselves at your place of business, preferably in your work attire. I.e. in front of your building, in the neighborhood that you serve, in your home, wherever you are spending most of your time.
WHAT SHOULD I SAY?
Please tell us:
What you are doing now
How do you think The Potter’s House has helped you to serve God and society to your fullest potential
We are SO excited to hear from you all!
Ready, set… Go Pumas!
*(disclaimer: many phones need videos to be less than 25MB to send, so if the video is high quality, it may need to be closer to the 10-20 seconds, rather than the 90…unless you can export your video to a lower resolution to make it a smaller file size)
Please send us your videos by:
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”Mother Teresa
For more than a decade, The Potter’s House school has celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This year four former students returned to participate on an alumni panel at the high school. I was struck by the way some seemingly small things had resonated with these students during their time here at The Potter’s House. I heard each one recall moments in their schooling that had changed them and sometimes it was as simple as a handshake, someone giving them the powerful gift of being known, or taking the time to give wise counsel.
Assoumani Iyakaremye came to The Potter’s House in the seventh grade. He told our students that he had been looking for a positive place to fit in, and on the second day of school I memorized his name. He shared that it had made a huge impact on him. I am encouraged when I see how God can take the little things we do and make them matter. It took a little extra time to be intentional and practice his name but looking back it was well worth it to know that it made Assoumani feel “welcomed.” He went on to tell our current students that if they want to strengthen their walk with God they should listen to the advice that the teachers are giving them…”these teachers really do care about your life.” Hearing words like that, from a former student solidifies a teacher’s call as they continue to give their time and hearts to their students on a daily basis.
Now, long after the handshake, and hearing their names, and the advice, they carry those things into the next chapter of their lives. After graduating high school in 2011, Assoumani made his way to a local Christian college and he will graduate this spring. We were thrilled to hear that he and his testimony is being used by God to make an impact at Bethany Christian Services Refugee program where he now works. Friends, be encouraged, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13
Christine Hoekzema remembers the members of the Community of Living Waters as “really hippie people who sang all the time.”
Christine grew up on Grandville Avenue between Liberty and Olympia, in the heart of the Roosevelt Park neighborhood where the “young hippies” from Calvin moved in with the hopes of making a difference. Her parents were good friends of Al and Barb Jansen, who helped with Kid Power and eventually The Potter’s House. In fact, Christine remembers Al playing the guitar and leading the kids in song, which she said was a focal point of the Tuesday evening Kid Power program.
The Potter’s House didn’t offer preschool or kindergarten when they first began, so Christine attended a local Christian school. When she entered first grade and was eligible to begin at The Potter’s House, her dad had to convince the teachers and administrator to let her in.
“They didn’t want to compete with other Christian schools,” she said of The Potter’s House founders.
She got in to the school by virtue of living just up the street and began first grade in Mr. Van’s class. Never having experienced a male teacher, she was apprehensive as she entered his class. But after first grade and then having Mr. Van again in 3rd grade, she left counting him as her favorite teacher.
“He was really funny, and he made you feel special,” Christine said of the school’s co-founder. “Every kid in the class had a special week as ‘top banana,’ where you made special things and you could have friends over.”
As much as she loved the singing and Mr. Van, Christine said her biggest take-away from both Kid Power and The Potter’s House was the family atmosphere. At the time, she didn’t realize how small the classes were and how diverse her classmates were. She just knew she always wanted to be at school because everybody felt welcome.
Christine attended The Potter’s House through 6th grade, the highest TPH offered at the time. When her parents moved to Newaygo during her 7th grade year, her eyes were opened to the blessing of a diverse community. Everybody in Newaygo looked the same, she said, and she began to be grateful for her experience at The Potter’s House.
“Those are important things that help you to grow later on,” she said. “I’m thankful for that, to be a little bit more open-minded.”
Christine is also thankful to know her son is able to have a similar experience at the school. Desmond, age four, attends Pre-K and loves Mrs. Larson. She is hoping a spot will open up for her son Everett, currently in 1st grade at a local school, as she knows The Potter’s House would be a wonderful fit for him.
“The Potter’s House is more willing to talk with you about [financial options] and help you out,” Christine said. “I want to be involved. If there’s a place I want to donate and give myself to, it’s The Potter’s House.”
“We appreciate the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity,” said their father, Shane Cox. “I see it in the children as they exit the school each day. I see it in the kids on the bleachers during middle school discipleship. I’m in awe of the diversity of backgrounds and families.”
“I value the fact that my kids are with teachers that genuinely care about them, and they love Jesus above all,” said their mother, Heather Cox.
Abbie and Elijah come home talking about what they learned. Then their parents watch them implement their lessons.
“I think discipleship at this school has been a big part of my kids’ lives,” Heather said. “They understand ministry and having compassion for people.”
The diversity and Christ-centeredness were of utmost importance to the Coxes when choosing a school for their children. Yet they knew they couldn’t manage tuition for Elijah and Abbie between seminary loans and ministry start-up costs.
“We realized private education would be expensive,” said Shane, “but when we heard how much we would have to pay for tuition, we were blown away by the idea that we could afford to have our kids be a part of this school.”
In 2009, Shane had just graduated from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and he and Heather prayed about what God wanted them to do next. They felt God’s call to simply invite their neighbors into their apartment at Franklin and Division. Over time, the fellowship of neighbors became a community of faith, and they began meeting in a studio space on Division Avenue in the Heartside district under the name Take Hold.
“There’s a common thread between this school’s mission and the mission of our faith community,” Shane said. “We wanted to develop a small church that would have the same mindset that we’re all equal in the sight of the Lord. It doesn’t matter your background or the color of your skin. We’re all one in Christ Jesus. We wanted to give our children a well-rounded education where they were exposed to different cultures and people.”
Heather and Shane are grateful for the opportunity The Potter’s House provides for their kids to have an education that works hand-in-hand with the kingdom focus they are trying to instill at home and through Take Hold church.
“I just want to stress our thankfulness for the blessing this school has been to our family,” Shane said. “There’s no other way our children could have an experience like this.”
Jorge Zamudio (class of ’09) graduated from Grand Valley State University in December, and had the privilege of being interviewed with me and several fellow alumni on the Time to Talk show with Argie Holliman on GRTV in January. Here’s his story in his own words.
Sam was tense and nervous when he first came to The Potter’s House in middle school. He was bullied at his previous school and didn’t know how to take the welcome and peace he received when he began attending The Potter’s House. He became a spiritual leader at the high school and is now attending college to pursue a career as a CIA agent.