The Voice: Summer 2002

The Voice

Wolthuizens share a passion for social service

By Sally Jongsma

Ben, Matt, Sara, and Sandra Wolthuizen share majors and classes, but plan to pursue different careersHaving four members of the same family enrolled in college at one time isn’t unheard of, but it certainly isn’t common. But Sandra, Ben, Matt, and Sara Wolthuizen have even more in common than all being from one family. They are also all in social service majors: Sandra, Ben, and Sara in social work, and Matt in psychology.

The Wolthuizens attribute their career aspirations, at least in part, to working at Village Northwest, a residential training school for people with disabilities in Sheldon, Iowa. Sandra, who is mother of Ben, Matt, and Sara, began working at the Village nearly ten years ago. As Sara, a first-year student says, “It seems like mom’s always worked there.”

Sandra loves her work there, where she teaches life skills to people who live in the Village. “I’ve worked other jobs, but none of them felt rewarding like this one does,” she says.

Her enthusiasm for and commitment to her work have rubbed off on her children, it seems. Ben has worked at the Village in the past, and Matt and Sara do currently.

“I love what I do,” says Matt. And he appreciates the people he works with who have encouraged him to go on with his education so that he can eventually work as a counselor—maybe even at Village Northwest.

Both Ben and Matt left high school with no idea about what they’d like to do for a career. As a result, both began taking classes at the local community college.             There they found a great professor, they say, who made psychology come alive and seem very relevant to their lives. Coupled with their work at the Village, they began to pursue social service work as they set a course for their lives.

Around that time Sandra decided to take some classes as well. She had always wanted to go to college, and she had trained as a licensed practical nurse but chose to stay home with her six children for several years. She, too, enrolled at the local community college and graduated the same year as her sons.

Sandra so enjoyed her classes that when she finished the two-year program she decided to continue taking classes part-time at Dordt toward a four-year degree. Ben, the oldest of the children, took a year off to travel in Europe and work before coming to Dordt, so Matt was the first in the family to graduate from Dordt this spring.

Although Sandra, who works full-time and has half of her family at home yet, doesn’t spend much time on campus, her three children enrolled here do and are having fun doing it. They know where they’re headed and say they are having a great time getting there.

Because they are in similar majors, the Wolthuizens have all had classes with each other. By now they and their fellow students are used to it, but all admit that it adds an interesting dimension.

“One person thought my mom was my sister,” says Ben, with a wry smile. Others, early on, teased that he would have to be careful what he said with his mother listening.

And Sandra says at first she consciously tried to avoid inadvertently embarrassing any of her children in front of their peers. But all agree, it’s rather fun, even though it does foster a light-hearted competitiveness at times. Occasionally they’ll do homework together, but more often, says Sara, they take advantage of the opportunity to talk about issues they’ve discussed in class and that pertain to their interests in social

“It’s been really interesting to learn more about how mom thinks and hear her perspective on raising a family, for example,” says Ben. Sandra, too, gets a better perspective on how her children are thinking about issues important to all of them.

The experience has strengthened an already close family bond. “We always look out for each other,” says Matt, and Sandra notes that the family is always there to help one another.

What lies ahead varies from one Wolthuizen to the next. Matt has been accepted into graduate school next fall and plans to earn a master’s degree in counseling. Although he likes where he currently works and enjoys Northwest Iowa, he’ll explore therapy positions wherever they’re available once he finishes his education. Finding a good place to work where he feels he can help his clients and where fellow staff members encourage and support one another is more important to him than making a lot of money, he says.

Ben, who worked at a camp this past summer, has a year at Dordt yet before he begins looking for a position.

“I’m thinking about the possibility of working in the juvenile justice system or maybe in a prison,” he says. He’s not sure where his job search will take him but feels convinced he’s headed where God wants him—in some kind of helping profession where he can do what he loves most: interacting with people. He plans to look for a job after graduating to get some experience in social work before he decides whether to go on to graduate school.

Sandra says she doesn’t know if she’ll ever leave what she’s doing, but going back to school has expanded her world so much that it doesn’t matter.

“There’s so much you don’t know about the world when you just go get a job and go to work each day,” she says. “I believe I’m more open to ideas, less naive and closed-minded.” She says she never realized how spoiled and wealthy North Americans are.             

“It’s so easy to get caught up in your own world without knowing what else is going on in the world,” she says. She dreams of some day going to help in a
place where there’s desperate need, but doesn’t know if that will actually happen either.

She’s already using some of what she’s learned in her work at the Village and in her daily life and says that it doesn’t matter whether she uses it more specifically to change her current occupation because what she’s doing is so interesting and has been so rewarding.

Sara is still three years away from having to decide what to do with her life after college. She says she thought in high school she would go into nursing, but her work with residents at Village Northwest and her social work classes have convinced her that she wants to work with people who have special needs.

“Some people are uncomfortable with people who are different,” she says. “I’ve come to love and appreciate the uniqueness of different people. It’s cool to see them learn and develop their skills.”

She continues, “We’re called to love each other and treat each other as we want to be treated—to care for others. I can’t see myself doing anything else.”