The Voice: Spring 2002

The Voice

Lloyd and Vicki Vander Kwaak try to be channels of God's peace

Vicki and Lloyd Vander Kwaak spoke at the Homecoming chapel on Thursday and were honored at a banquet on Friday evening
By Sonya Jongsma Knauss

Make me a channel of your peace, from the prayer of St. Francis, is an apt theme for two people who have structured their lives around being channels of peace and justice in a broken world.

Lloyd and Vicki Vander Kwaak (’78,’78), this year’s Dordt College Distinguished Alumni, have lived very intentionally with this theme at the heart of their work and play.

“From everything we knew and could learn, they represent, as a couple, the very best of what Dordt stands for,” says Judy Hagey, director of alumni relations.

The Vander Kwaaks are so committed to the words of the prayer that they sang the musical version of it at their wedding, with each of their children on their 18th birthdays, and recently at the wedding of their oldest daughter.

They also used the prayer of St. Francis in their chapel speech during Homecoming week to talk to students about what it means to live obediently in God’s world.

“You don’t always know the bigger picture, but. . . you have to be faithful and obedient and listen to your inner promptings about what God wants you to do,” Vicki says. In their chapel talk, they shared the story of Michael, a teenage boy they have known since he was a baby and his mother was homeless and on drugs. He is now almost a part of their family.

Michael is one of many who have been touched by the actions of the Vander Kwaaks—they have been a channel of peace for this boy, who might have otherwise grown up on the streets and had a very different future.

Blessed in their work

Shortly after graduating from Dordt, Lloyd and Vicki moved to Racine, Wisconsin, to take jobs as nurse’s aides. They both enrolled in graduate work at University of Wisconsin-Parkside and started their family.

Job opportunities for Lloyd took them back to Sioux Center to work at Hope Haven, and then to Des Moines to work at a home for children. Vicki has worked in many capacities, paid and unpaid, as a mother and active volunteer in the communities they lived in.

The way they see it, “The opportunities we’ve had were simply God laying out an opportunity for us to use our gifts and abilities,” says Lloyd.

And both are happy with where God has led. “Both Lloyd and I feel like we’re very blessed right now,” Vicki says, “because what we happen to be doing for paid employment is what we love to do and completely maximizes who we are and all of what our passions are. It seems we’re doing exactly what we’re meant to do.”

As president of the Convalescent Home for Children Network, Lloyd has helped the organization grow from serving 100 children to serving more than 1200. In ten years, the staff has grown from 175 to over 600.

“When I first came along, one of the things I did was ask, ‘Where do you want this organization to go, and how should it get there?’ We spent the first year mapping out a strategic planning process, and now we do that every three years.”

Lloyd said the job was a wonderful opportunity because it was a small organization with a narrow focus—providing specific health services for children with special needs.

“Our mission is to partner with families to help kids with special health care needs live a great life.”

After many years of volunteer and part-time paid work, Vicki accepted a full-time position with Mercy Hospice a year and a half ago as a medical social worker and bereavement coordinator. She says it’s a job that taps all of her clinical skills.

“It’s often a time of healing, with a lot of apologies and a lot of tears…you have to be quick, to know just how and when to intervene,” she says. “You have all these people there, and just a couple days, so you need to know just right where to push or not to push.”

She enjoys her workplace partly because of the wonderful staff—all Christians who work well together. Because the organization is faith-based, those who use it know where they’re coming from, and staff members are able to share their faith.

Their faith has always shaped what they do, Lloyd says.

“We recognize that we live in a broken world, but our major responsibility as believers is to bring reconciliation to the world, to make it better and do that in the name of Christ,” he says. “The challenge is to understand what you can do to make a difference.”

Social work as calling

Both social workers, the Vander Kwaaks have a unified view of life and share their passions and priorities. It is evident that they have nothing but love and respect for each other. And it’s clear that they enable each other to use their God-given gifts to the fullest extent, a wonderful example of God’s directive for marriage.

They say they haven’t suffered from “social work burnout” because they’re able to support each other through the tough work issues–whether it’s working with a family that has experienced a tragic accident and now has a child needing intensive therapy and care, or whether it’s working with a family that is losing a loved one.

But Lloyd says another reason they don’t feel burnout is because of other things they do.

“We’re made to be involved in many different things,” he says. “If you live a balanced life, with good boundaries, that assists with issues of burnout. You need to recognize that you have a family, community, church, and more you should be doing than just working and focusing on one thing.”

Lloyd calls himself a social worker “by default,” as he had to find another major after getting a D in his intended major, chemistry. But he also says his upbringing influenced him.

Vicki says her interest in social work also had a lot to do with her upbringing—“my parents really had hearts of mercy,” she explains. “I grew up seeing diaconal work being fleshed out, and social work is a lot about matching people with resources and working within large systems. It just made sense.”

Committed to their family and community

Shortly after starting graduate school at UW-Parkside, Lloyd and Vicki started their family, which now consists of Kristin, Nicholas, Reuben, and Kimberly. For the last two years Salome Toryem from Nigeria has also lived with them.

“After about two children I realized that public administration wasn’t what I wanted to do for sure, and that I wanted to stay home more,” Vicki said, so Lloyd finished his studies while she devoted her time to their children and various
volunteer activities.

Looking back on the path her life has taken, Vicki describes being at home with her young kids as “the favorite thing that’s happened to me since I went to Dordt.”

“I always wanted to be a mom,” she says. “Maybe it was because I grew up in a home that was always full of foster babies. I absolutely loved it. . . just helping them to learn and discover the world, to learn and grow.”

While some families may see minimizing outside activities as important to family growth, Vander Kwaaks tried to involve their children in their work, scaling back when appropriate.

“We did a lot of reaching out as a family,” Vicki says, describing the relationships they formed with others as part of Good Samaritan Urban Ministries in Des Moines. Vicki volunteered there one day a week, meeting with six single moms in the transitional housing program. But their involvement went beyond counseling sessions—often, the Vander Kwaaks would invite people over to their house.

This is how they met Michael, the boy they talked about in their chapel speech, who, Vicki says, “kind of grew up as our kids’ little brother—he was homeless half the time, and here every third weekend.”

She said seeing that, and some of the other work the family was involved in, allowed their children to have a good grasp of relational work with others—how to foster long-term, healthy relationships.

“It made an impact on our kids in terms of sensitivity,” Lloyd says.

“Parenting for peace and justice—that’s one of our favorite statements. You can try to do many things at the same time, but you have to have a clear focus,” he says.

The Vander Kwaaks have encouraged their children to attend Dordt or a college with a similar orientation. Lloyd, who taught one course a semester at Dordt when he served for eight years at Hope Haven, says his experience with students reminded him that college is really a time and place where students begin to learn how to think.

As parents they have tried to help their children—at their developmental level—see the power of faith and worldview to shape actions, Lloyd says. “But unless they are able to live that out in an environment when they’re learning how to think, they may have difficulty translating that into their calling as adults. We believe Dordt will make a difference in that journey.”

Both say they developed a sense of calling at Dordt that continues to drive them to this day.

“In our very last class, the social work professor told us, ‘go change the world,’” Vicki remembers. “You’ve got to figure out what that means, but we’ve been trying to be faithful in figuring out what that means wherever we are—in our jobs, our family, and neighborhood. We’re always mindful of that.”