“I’m just like anyone else. Don’t let the wheelchair fool you,” said Kate Veldink, a student in the Ready For Life Academy (RFLA). The academy strives to provide an under-served group of learners – individuals with learning, cognitive or social disabilities – with a positive and inclusive college experience. Nicole Mosterd, the Hope instructor for RFLA, remarked, “I know how much I enjoyed my time at Hope as a student, so being able to be part of the team that provides this experience for RFLA students is a real joy.” Mosterd has been working with the academy for three years and finds the most rewarding aspects of her work to be “witnessing the development of authentic relationships among RFLA students and Hope students and the manner that Hope professors and staff interact with RFLA students.
Professors are excited to host RFLA students in class and display genuine hospitality towards them. These relationships give RFLA students a sense of belonging and purpose on the campus, which is beautiful to watch.” Hannah Kenny (’20) created an awareness video with Veldink to explore the accessibility of Hope’s campus and shed light on barriers that RFLA students face from day to day. Interviews with family and friends revealed Veldink’s tenacious spirit and passion for social justice. According to Kenny, the most important takeaway from the project is that “we need to put action behind the words that Hope is preaching. The reality is that it’s not as inclusive as they say.” Through her video, Kenny passionately advocates for RFLA students to be included in the rest of campus. The students and staff of RFLA have recognized the current challenges hindering the integration of RFLA students into the Hope student body. One main issue is that the classroom is located in the basement of Anderson-Werkman with a small capacity of six people. Closer proximity to campus would be preferred as well as a larger space, considering there are typically at least 10 students in the academy at one time.
In addition, RFLA students are given visitor ID badges, perpetuating their label as guests on Hope’s campus. Veldink’s sister Abby Sievers spoke out saying, “I would love to see Hope consider Ready For Life students Hope students.” She believes that giving RFLA students Hope ID badges would help them feel “accepted wholly into the Hope community.” Veldink has simple yet powerful hopes for the future. She said, “I would like [RFLA] to be integrated with Hope. Right now I feel like it’s ‘us’ and then ‘them’, so I would like it to come together and be a ‘we.’”
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