The power of a community


Picture tweeted by @WestOttawaHS

Hailey Warsaw, Aubrey Klavon, and Rachel Ives

It has been a difficult year. The United States had its largest mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando. Singer Christina Grimmie was shot and killed at a meet and greet. Hundreds of African Americans have been the victims of police brutality. Sadly, these tragic events don’t even begin to cover all of the struggles and losses in today’s society. Even in our own community, we have suffered tragic events that have impacted us immensely. But, through all the sadness, death, violence, and anger, kindness has emerged as a bright light in the midst of these dark times.

  On August 7, a suspected drunk driver crossed the centerline of Blue Star Highway and crashed into an AMR ambulance.  Tim Hoffman was in the back of the ambulance when the crash happened while Kevin Jongekryg was driving.  Hoffman wound up in critical condition, but Jongekryg was stable.  “I was really scared, because I didn’t know the details of the accident,” said Sr. Addam Jongekryg, Kevin’s son.  “My dad was more mentally hurt than physically hurt, because his partner was in bad condition.”  

  To help combat the financial burden and stress that this crash would put on the families of the men, Heather Laninga decided to host a gift card drive at local restaurant Crazy Horse, where she is the General Manager.  “We wanted to do something to help, but we weren’t sure what.  It needed to be right away, and we didn’t have time to come up with something big.  We decided to raise gift cards to meet the first needs of the families, like gas and food, because that’s what you need when you are in the hospital.”  

  This show of kindness was well received by Jongekryg.  “It is hard to express in words how encouraged I was.  I felt so thankful that a business and community was so helpful towards our family,” said Jongekryg.  “[The gift card drive] took away the feeling of ‘How are we going to make it through this?’ and turned our feelings into ‘We are going to make it through this.’”  One small act of kindness that was brought about in a dire situation made a huge impact on two families here in Holland.

  West Ottawa High School started the school year with a tragic student death.  Frosh. Vincent Green attended freshman orientation the morning before his death at the Holland State Park. The first day of school is usually an exciting time for everyone, but with memories of Green in the back of everyone’s minds, nobody could truly enjoy the day.  “I was really nervous at first [to go back to school],” said Soph. Jaelan Williams, a friend of Green.  Fortunately, there is some good that has emerged from this tragic loss.  

  WO students came together to wear the color green to remember Green and to support those affected by his death.  “It made me feel proud that I go to a school where people actually care.  It gave me a lot of pride about going to this school,” said Williams.  Other schools, like Holland Christian, also participated to show their support.  Green’s death brought heartbreak to friends, family, and even complete strangers, but the Holland community’s ability to come together in hard times gave many people hope.

  Another student death in the Holland area caused distress for the students of Holland High School.  Paige Mata, 15, committed suicide on September 17.  Mata’s cousin, Frankie Mata, said, “For the school, it was very traumatic, and everyone took it really deeply, because there’s been so many deaths around.  I took [Mata’s death] very personally too, it was very hard.”  

  Since so many people were affected by this tragic event, West Ottawa’s Executive Board of the Student Senate decided to do something about it.  Sr. Paul Harrington, Sr. Jarod Klavon, Jr. Mia Patchin, Jr. Dominic Aquino, and Jr. Anna Saewert brought nearly 3,000 cookies to Holland High, and created a banner.  They called this show of compassion “Hugs for Holland.”

   Just Eat a Cookie and de Boer Bakkerij donated 200 and 300 cookies, respectively. The manager at Panera, who had lost a friend to suicide, was able to pull some strings and donate 1,000 cookies. After asking a few other places, the senate members ended up with close to 3,000 cookies.

  “We just wanted to show them the same support that Holland has shown us in the past,” said Patchin.  “We went to all of Paige’s classes, and most of them just started crying.  You could tell that everyone was really sad and hurt by what happened.  I think we just made them feel a little better than they originally did, knowing that someone was looking out for them.”  

   “Personally, this support has impacted me, because it helped me to realize that even though we go to different schools, we are all a part of one community, and as that community stepping up and helping people in need is something that we should all do if we want to make a difference. This act of kindness got really good reception from the students at HHS and so many people were moved by this act of kindness,” Sr. Alyssa Leal, Vice President of HHS’s Student Senate, said.

  Amy Jo Burmeister, who is a teacher at WO and a cross country coach at Holland, said “I was proud that the kids here came up with [Hugs for Holland] on their own, and that they just wanted to reach out and do something nice. The kids that I noticed were more affected by her death were just overwhelmed.  I had kids who came into the locker room that day, before saying anything, just come over and hug me.  I didn’t really have anything to do with it, but just kind of associating the building itself and the people here with support, made them feel that they weren’t alone in this.”  Hugs for Holland was a huge success in supporting Holland High and bringing the community together to mourn the tragic loss of a student.

     Not only did our community come together for Holland High School, but the goodwill and support continued when Holland Christian High School experienced a loss of their own, with the passing of instructor and coach Kevin Witte. “It was really hard to deal with the loss of a teacher because it’s not something I’ve really ever experienced. You don’t see it coming, and you don’t believe it’s real for a while. It kind of numbed me,”  HCHS student Jr. Alli Wassink said.

  With the news of this devastating loss and its heartbreaking effect on Holland Christian schools, West Ottawa students Sr. Jojo Racelis and Jr. Scarlet Kellner were motivated to spread hope and kindness. Their plan? To show HCHS support and love through art, inspiring the entire student body to contribute their prayers, thoughts, and drawings into two mural-sized posters. The West Ottawa Broadcasting Network was also inspired to make a contribution, creating a video filled with clips of teachers, students, teams, and staff saying “all in” as a motto of support for HCHS. “The idea for the video came from all the WOBN classes collaborating,” Jr. Julia Miller said, “Wally’s [WOBN Instructor Lindsay Wallcott] kids go to HCHS, so she felt personally connected to what happened and felt that she needed to do something to help those at Holland Christian.”

    When it was all said and done, the posters displayed the simple phrase “all in” boldly in the center, surrounded by a rainbow of drawings, paintings, hand prints, prayers, and a slew of benevolent thoughts and wishes. “It was an inspiring, touching moment to see people come together even if they didn’t know Mr. Witte personally. We’re all a community; it’s important to show that even if we’re from different schools, that we are all in this together, especially in these tough times,” Kellner said. Jr. Madison Mitchell, a contributor to the poster, agrees. “I was really ready to help, especially since Holland Christian did so much for us when we lost Vincent,” Mitchell said, leaving her bright orange handprint on the poster.  “At first it felt like you were just doing a little thing by getting with your class and saying ‘all in’” Jr. Gloria Thomas said regarding the video. “But when I saw the video I realized it’s a bigger deal than that. Even though it seems like a small thing, it reaches people on a deeper level and it feels good being a part of making that happen.”

 HCHS’s response to the videos and posters were touching. “Our principal tweeted out the video and then it was shown in one of our chapels at the beginning of class. The poster was in the main area of all of our school, so everyone began to see it right away, take pictures of it, and tell others.” Wassink said, “It was truly touching to see people from West Ottawa care enough about us all to take time out of their day to make a poster, think about us, and support us by making a video and saying our school theme.” HCHS Jr. Hannah Brashears agrees, “It was a really heartwarming thing to know that the West Ottawa community was thinking of us and with us at this sad time. Knowing that there are so many people praying for us is amazing.”

  Through all these tragedies, the Holland community has come together to support one another, each kind act inspiring a new one. Times like these show just how extraordinary Holland is, and how powerful a place can be when the community unites, shining brightly together, a beacon of love and hope for all.