2020: It wasn’t all that bad


Kate Roudebush

“We’re in this together, and we’re going to figure this out,” said Nate Dewitt, a youth ministries coordinator at Harderwyk Christian Reformed Church. 

   This is a mindset that many people, both in the Holland community and around the world, have adapted due to the immense number of challenges thrown at them throughout the course of 2020.

   In less than 365 days, life has completely changed. When many people look back on this past year, perhaps they will recall the COVID-19 pandemic that took the world by storm. Maybe they will remember the extreme racial tension and Black Lives Matter movement that sparked fires in the hearts of people all throughout the nation. 

   In these “unprecedented times,” a term seemingly invented to remind everyone of just how wild this year has been, people have somehow managed to come together, even as they remain six feet apart.

   This year, despite all of the hardships and horrors, positivity still prevails. Even in this very community, there are people who have found light in the darkness.

   Aaron VanDerVeen, one of the pastors at Harderwyk Ministries, has recognized how the public has united in these hard times. “I saw people slow down from the usual daily grind of life and responsibilities, spending time with people who were close to them that they often may take for granted,” he said. VanDerVeen has seen people come together to appreciate one another, to take time they may not have previously had, and spend it in gratitude with those who mean the most to them.

   Dewitt has acknowledged how this year has positively impacted not only his family, but the community as a whole. “We’ve had certain things cut out of our lives that aren’t necessarily bad, but then it becomes what do we fill that time with,” said Dewitt. “We live very busy lives, we’ve got lots of stuff going on. This year however, whether we’ve wanted it or not, we’ve been forced to have more room in our lives.”

  He notices the importance of filling this newfound time with beneficial acts of service, either to one’s self or community. “One, we have more time, and two, potentially you’re filling it with other good things,” said Dewitt. A specific way Dewitt has noticed the community come together is through people’s compassion toward one another. “Not everybody has been affected by this the same way. In our community, at least the people who are very well off and have not been affected as much financially, a lot of people step up financially and really try to help other people out.”

   Angela Stegenga works for a local nonprofit organization, Neighbors Plus. She has seen firsthand how community members have made the best out of the worst situations. “The biggest overlapping positive thing I have seen this past year has been how people began to give of their time with one another. Paying attention to and encouraging those around us can be such a powerful gift. I’ve seen a lot of that this year,” said Stegenga.

   “I saw the continued selfless acts of health care workers, police, fire, and emergency workers doing what they do everyday, putting their lives on the line to serve and care for the community. We often take these people for granted, and yet they keep getting up to do what they’ve always done,” said Pastor VanDerVeen. 

   Doctor Ryan Bentley owns Vitalis-Health, a direct primary care practice. Here, he has seen numerous changes in the community in both his business and day to day life. Bentley recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed many changes on health care services, but he has chosen to find the best in these changes. “People are getting more appropriate time to spend with their physicians,” said Bentley.

   Outside of the business world, Bentley has also witnessed changes throughout the community. “I saw a significant increase in people in the community getting outside and walking and riding a bike,” he said. “A lot of people have reprioritized their lives and focused on getting healthier so that they can better serve their purpose.”

   For many, West Ottawa itself has proven to be a glimmer of hope. “The first thing that came to mind is West Ottawa pulling together to provide more than 50 bus stops to feed their students breakfast and lunch while home from school during quarantine. Teachers, students, parents, and community volunteers all stepped up to help,” said Dawn Houskamp, another Neighbors Plus employee. “I saw teachers and an amazing school district like West Ottawa try to figure out ways to teach virtually, get food to families to not only students, but our community, and provide WiFi for people who didn’t have it,” said VanDerVeen.

   In times such as these, where the future seems so uncertain, people come together. Students and teachers, parents and their kids, adults and children unite to bring back as much happiness and normalcy as possible.

   “People see a need and they’re trying to help. As much as the media talks about how divided our culture has come to be, people have come together in all of this,” said Dewitt. While this year has been one full of countless heart wrenching events, it is unfair to ignore that there has also been another side of the story, a side full of hopeful people looking eagerly toward a brighter future. Undeterred by the adversity this year has given, the community has come together in many astounding ways. 

   At the end of each class period, instructor Melody Holmes always tells her students, “You are so loved, you are so valued, and you are greatly missed.” This is a reminder that everyone, students, teachers, and adults alike, all deserve to hear and truly remember every single day as the community works as one to overcome the obstacles currently being faced.

   Holland, West Ottawa, and a myriad of other communities have all proved one thing: regardless of what we face, when society unifies, there is always good to be found.