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Saturday, Dec. 3, Ready For Life’s Horizons program hosted a Christmas party in conjunction with Calvin residence hall Beets Veenstra. It’s a tradition that has been going on for quite some time, and a tradition that both Calvin students and Horizons members have come to rely on.
Ready For Life (RFL) is a non-profit organization that operates out of Grand Rapids and provides services for people with disabilities. These include a life skill-learning program, a college program, a summer camp and a social activates program—Horizons.
Horizons is a program designed for local adults “experiencing physical or developmental disabilities,” according to RFL’s website.
They partner with Beets Veenstra in order to organize and plan these events which range from the annual Christmas parties to bowling, trick-or-treating on Halloween and movie nights.
RFL’s website states that its goal with these events is for Calvin students to “create meaningful relationships with the Horizons members.” The website boasts of having at 2:1 or greater student to member ratio at their events.
Grant Vermeer is the co-director of the Horizons program and sits on RFL’s board of directors, both volunteer positions. He’s been involved with the organization since the fall of 2010, but his involvement with special needs precedes his RFL positions.
“People living with special needs and disabilities have always had a special place in my heart,” said Vermeer. “I've had a best friend since second grade who has Down syndrome and he has been the biggest reason I've gotten involved with RFL. He actually attends a few of our programs, which has been a ton of fun.”
Vermeer has learned a lot during his two years working with RFL.
“I think one of the biggest things I've learned is that while there are differences between us, there are so many more similarities,” he said. “I thought I had a lot to offer, but as I've gotten more involved I realized there is much more for me to learn from them.”
Amid the learning has been also a lot of laughter.
“The individuals I work with are so very caring and have some of the biggest hearts of anyone I've ever met,” said Vermeer. “I have been blessed time and time again by the interactions and fun I've had while working with RFL members.”
Vermeer isn’t the only one enjoying himself. Members of the Horizons programs have formed lasting friendships with both the Calvin students and each other.
“I really enjoy the camaraderie,” said Horizons member Brennan Hasbeen, a Horizons member for almost eight years. “I like hanging out with students and the other people that attend.”
Hasbeen tries to attend all the events, but the holiday themed ones are his favorites.
“I always like the Christmas parties, and the Halloween ones as well,” he said.
Working with Horizons has become a part of dorm life for Beets Veenstra residents.
“Working with Horizons is always fun,” said sophomore Aimee Vos. “It’s important to our whole floor, and we make an effort to go together.”
Vos said attending Horizons events was something her floor emphasized from the very beginning of the year.
“We wanted to make sure the freshmen knew that Horizons was a priority,” she said, “and that it was important to go to the events.”
Making Horizons a priority is something the Beets Veenstra as a whole has embraced. Posters advertising upcoming events decorate the halls and dorm leadership sends out reminder emails to increase event awareness.
Beets Veenstra resident Brett Venhuizen said working with Horizons is more than just a volunteer opportunity.
“It doesn’t even feel like volunteering anymore,” said Venhuizen, a sophomore and second year volunteer. “Whenever I go to a Horizons event, I know I’m going to spend time with friends.”