The Hope Fund began with a vision: how might Dordt University help current students who had financial hardships due to the Covid-19 pandemic?
“Our goal is to make it possible for every student to complete their degree at Dordt,” says Harlan Harmelink (’85), director of financial aid. “We want to send a message of hope to our students.”
Defender Nation responded in a huge way, donating more than $625,000 to help students return to campus this fall. Thanks to the Hope Fund, Dordt was able to provide significant financial assistance to approximately 190 students, with most awards between $500 to $4,000. Some larger awards were given in instances where the student and their family were especially impacted. For all recipients, the Financial Aid Office reviewed students’ academic and financial history, the nature of their request, parental layoffs, and additional pertinent information.
“Across the board, the Hope Fund made a huge difference in the lives of these students and their ability to be back on campus this fall,” says Harmelink.
“I’m overwhelmed with the generosity of Defender Nation,” says President Erik Hoekstra. “There are many stories of students who have been able to return to campus thanks to the Hope Fund—to continue their education so that they can ultimately go out into the world as effective kingdom citizens working for the glory of God.”
Here are some of those stories.
It was a no-brainer for Russell Dyk to attend Dordt. Both of his parents and all four of his grandparents went to Dordt, so he knew it well. Plus, his girlfriend was already studying accounting at Dordt.
“I was looking for a good Christian education, and Dordt had a strong engineering program, so it had everything I needed,” he says.
The Denver, Colorado, native chose to study mechanical engineering and minor in physics. As a child, he enjoyed creating things and problem-solving, so engineering was a great fit.
Eventually, Russell and his girlfriend, Cassandra Lenderink (’20), married and moved off-campus. They were diligent about planning ahead.
“The summer is our time to save up enough money for the school year, food, and rent,” says Russell.
The couple planned to spend the summer at Raven Industries in Sioux Falls, where they had secured internships—Cassandra in accounting, and Russell in engineering. But the Covid-19 pandemic put an end to those plans.
“We spent spring break on a camping trip in Arkansas, and we got all these emails—’Dordt’s moving online for the semester, the world is shutting down.’ It was crazy,” Russell says.
When they returned to campus, they learned that their summer internships had been canceled.
“We had rent set aside for the rest of 2020, but for the school year, we were relying on our internships to pay for Dordt,” recalls Russell.
Cassandra graduated at the end of the spring semester, and the couple tried to find jobs in the area.
“I was out of work for a couple weeks after the semester ended, and she was out of work for a month,” he says. “We both found lower-paying jobs—I worked as an electrician, and Cassandra worked at Maurice’s in Sioux Center.”
Their budget was tight. Russell tried to figure out other ways to pay for college, looking into grants, scholarships, and loans. And that’s when he heard about the Hope Fund—in a campus-wide email that described how other students were donating part of their room and board billing adjustment to the Hope Fund.
At first, he wasn’t sure whether he should apply for funding from the Hope Fund.
“Things would have been tight, but we probably could have made it. I didn’t know how many students were in a worse situation than we were,” he says.
But he filled out the application form anyway, trusting that God would provide.
“A few weeks into the fall semester, I got an email that said I’d received funding,” he said. “It was a huge relief and comfort that we could set enough aside to pay for the spring semester and start saving up for rent for the next semester.”
Thanks to the Hope Fund, Russell can focus his energy on finishing his senior year—working hard to complete his mechanical engineering degree at a college where he feels supported.
“That’s something I appreciate about being in a Christian community—that we provide for each other. In the future, my wife and I hope to be as generous as the donors are.”
Shavon Barker spent most of the spring semester and all summer in New York City, where he lives with his mom, aunt, cousin, and his cousin’s two children in a multi-family home. At the time, New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic, so he mostly stayed in his room, watched Netflix, and did his homework. He also watched his cousin’s two and seven-year-olds.
“My cousin is a frontline worker—a nurse,” he says. “Her boys couldn’t go to school either, so I watched them. Every morning, they’d wake up and come over to watch TV or play on my PlayStation. Sometimes it was challenging to work on my projects and to study.”
The city was shut down, and Barker says he rarely left the house. His cousin told harrowing stories of working at a hospital during the pandemic. It made him even more cautious about stepping outside.
Life was a far cry from what it had been like before the pandemic. A middle blocker on the Dordt men’s volleyball team, Barker spent part of his spring break with the volleyball team at a match in Iowa.
“We were shut off from the world for a couple hours, and then we got back to our locker rooms and saw our phones,” he recalls. “Dordt administration had emailed saying spring break was extended. We were all a bit shell-shocked.”
At first, he contemplated sticking around campus in case Covid-19 blew over, but as flights to New York City started to get canceled, his mother asked him to head back to the city.
Barker was also in regular communication with his father, an electrician who lives in Barbados.
“My dad pays the rest of my tuition. Barbados was stricter than the U.S. was–they shut everything down, including my dad’s business. My dad had been hospitalized for the early part of 2020 because of a blood clot in his lungs, so he was already struggling.”
Wanting to help in any way he could, Barker reached out to the Financial Aid Office, and that’s when he learned about the Hope Fund.
“When I found out I received funding, it felt like a load of bricks got lifted off my shoulders. It made me feel better, sleep better. I was relieved and excited.”
As the summer progressed and the chaos of the pandemic continued, Barker felt a sense of calm knowing he could go back to Dordt in the fall.
“I’m grateful for how Dordt kept us updated on Instagram and through emails this summer—just letting us know what was going on and what we should expect when we came back to school. That, in my opinion, spoke volumes,” he says. “It felt as if students were at the center of every decision Dordt was making.”
When he graduates in the spring, Barker hopes to put his construction management major to use at a small or medium-sized company in the United States. If that doesn’t pan out, he might head to Barbados to work alongside his father.
“I’d help to expand his business, because construction management and electrician work go hand in hand,” he says.
Barker chose to attend Dordt because he wanted to play volleyball and to major in construction management. Although he loves the hustle and bustle of New York City life, he’s grateful for his time in a small town.
“I’m super thankful to be here, and I feel that I made the best decision three-and-a-half years ago to come here.”
Back in March, sophomore psychology major Erin Bredemus was in Tucson, Arizona, for softball training camp when she found out that Dordt’s spring break would be extended to two weeks. By the time she and her teammates returned to campus, they learned that they’d have to finish out the spring semester with online learning instead of in-person classes. Softball Coach Jeff Zomer had also let them know that the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) had canceled their softball games and all other athletic events for the rest of the semester.
Despite the difficult news, Bredemus maintained a positive attitude.
“It was a blessing to be able to be with the team and coaching staff through that time of unknown. Although we did get shut down for the spring, having those last few days knowing it could be the end for our seniors and others on the team made it all the more special,” she says. “It did not turn out the way we wanted, but it was a huge bonding and growing experience for all of us on the softball team—and a huge blessing that we were able to work through our fears, anger, and anxiety about the next steps together.”
Bredemus had lined up a psychology field placement at Sioux Center Health for the spring semester; it was one of many steps she had planned to achieve her dream of becoming an occupational therapist. But when Covid-19 cases spiked in Sioux County, the internship came to an end.
Bredemus eventually went home to Andover, Minnesota, where her mother had been laid off from her job in human resources due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her family relied on her mother’s income. Bredemus’s little sister is a senior at a private Christian high school, so tuition payments became a worry.
“It was a hectic time trying to figure out how we were going to pay for it all,” she says.
Then, Coach Zomer texted the softball team to let them know about a fundraiser that Dordt athletics was holding for the Hope Fund. The athletic teams were selling “D.U. United” T-shirts to raise money for the Hope Fund, and he wanted to see if any of the softball players were interested in buying a shirt.
That caught the attention of Bredemus and her mother. They looked more into the Hope Fund and decided to apply. A few weeks before the fall semester began, Bredemus found out that she’d received funding.
“I think my mom started crying when she found out,” recalls Bredemus. “It was an incredible relief and joy, because at that time we still had no idea how we were going to pay for tuition.”
Back on campus, Bredemus is happy to spend time with her roommate, take psychology classes with engaging professors, and once again play infield on the softball team.
“All the spring sports team members are so excited to be back because that was taken away from us last season. It’s been amazing to be able to meet with the team and do what we love,” she says.
Bredemus says that, if she could say anything to the donors who gave to the Hope Fund, she would say a simple “thank you.”
“My family has experienced an incredible sense of relief because of the Hope Fund—that we don’t have to struggle to take out extra loans or find other ways to meet that requirement for me to be able to be here.”
It’s safe to say Dakota Klein loves theatre.
“I love getting into the mind of the character, being directed, and working with actors,” he says. “Theatre is absolutely my passion and lights me on fire.”
Last year, as a sophomore, he transferred to Dordt from a college in his home state of Kansas to major in theatre. “I looked into Dordt, and I liked it. And then I met Dr. Teresa Ter Haar, a theatre professor, and I loved it.”
He quickly got involved in Dordt’s theatre scene. By late February, he was starring in “Everything is Wonderful,” a play directed by Theatre Professor Laurel (Alons, ’06) Koerner.
“It was the most impactful and meaningful show I’ve ever done. My family came up to Dordt to see the play, and that’s when I first noticed something was off,” he recalls.
When he drove home for spring break a week later, he began to hear more about the Covid-19 pandemic. Listening to YouTube videos on his six-hour drive to Stillwell, Kansas, he heard a lawyer talk about the implications of a global pandemic.
“All of a sudden, it got so real so fast,” he says. “I remember the first night I got home, my parents sat me down, and I knew that something was wrong, because they never sit me down to talk to me. And then my mom said, ‘Your dad lost his job.’”
Klein’s father had been laid off from his job as a quality manager for an oil company, which had started downsizing because of Covid-19. This loss was a huge hit to the family’s income.
“They said, ‘We don’t know if you’ll be able to go back to Dordt next year.’ But for some reason, in the back of my mind, I kept thinking, ‘God’s got this.’”
A short time later, Klein reached out to Ter Haar to give her an update about what was going on in his life.
“She was the first person I told that my father had lost his job, actually. I said, ‘I think I’m going to need more scholarships, Teresa,’ and that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to come back.’ And that’s when she told me about the Hope Fund.”
When Klein found out he’d be able to return to Dordt in the fall because of the Hope Fund, he was elated.
“My parents and I looked at my financial aid package, and there was just this huge joy and sigh of relief,” he says. “We had been worried the entire summer. My parents obviously wanted me to come back to Dordt, but we didn’t have the money for it. This was God moving in my life through other people. This was the first time in my life that I really needed God to provide in a financial way, and he did.”
Klein says the Hope Fund made a huge difference in his life.
“Without the Hope Fund, I would not be here right now. I would probably not be getting an education this year. I’m sure I would have gone back to college at some point, but when? So, I want to thank the donors, because their gift was the reason I could come back this semester.”
Even though the fall semester looks a bit different because of Covid-19, Klein is grateful to be back on campus.
“I’m grateful to be around people and to know that God is working through them in ways that I can’t even imagine. And I get to do theatre again, which is really important to me. I missed the process and being with the actors, so being able to do what I love again is so wonderful.”
Growing up in Surrey, British Columbia, Janaya Hirsch heard about Dordt from teachers at her school. She was interested in becoming a teacher herself, and she’d heard that Dordt had an excellent education program. So, she decided to visit campus.
After a long trip to Sioux Center, she arrived just in time to go to Praise and Worship on Thursday night.
“It felt as if the Lord was saying, ‘Janaya, this is where you need to be,” she says.
Paying for a private education was not going to be easy, but God provided. She applied for and received scholarships from Dordt and her high school. Once she came to campus, she made the most of her college experience. Hirsch was part of the Putting Love into Action (PLIA) short-term mission trip, became a student government representative, joined the Future Active Christian Teachers (FACT) club, and more.
She was impressed by the generosity of Dordt alumni, too. Last year when she attended the Scholarship Banquet, she found it remarkable to see alumni and donors who cared so much for the institution.
“They care about furthering kingdom citizens and their education,” she says. “I remember how, at the banquet, they played the song ‘He Will Hold Me Fast.’ I still think about that song, because even in the midst of this pandemic, he’s holding Dordt—he’s holding every student and employee on campus. And one way he’s doing that is through the Hope Fund; it literally gives people hope.”
During spring break, Hirsch and a group of students went on a PLIA trip to Austin, Texas, where they served a homeless population. She was also the junior co-chair of PLIA at the time, which meant that she was in regular contact with Sam Ashmore, campus pastor and staff adviser for PLIA, about the unfolding pandemic.
“I care very deeply about PLIA and what it stands for, and when I realized that this was inducing a lot of stress and anxiety for others, that’s what hurt my heart.”
She checked in with all the other PLIA teams to see how they were doing. On the 14-hour drive back to Sioux Center, she felt an immense amount of peace.
“I knew that God is in control and that regardless of the situation, he is going to be faithful,” she says.
She spent the rest of the spring semester in Surrey and eventually found a job for the summer, but there were still unexpected costs. Plus, the Canadian dollar was not doing well.
Hirsch heard about the Hope Fund through a post on Instagram and felt torn about applying for it.
“I didn’t want to take money away from students who wouldn’t be able to come back to Dordt without it,” she says. “My parents said, ‘Well, Janaya, with the dollar and with our family right now, maybe you should apply for it.’”
So she did. “Now, looking back, with the value of the Canadian dollar, I couldn’t have done it without the Hope Fund. Being financially stable is something that’s valued in our society, and so to admit that you need help or that a Dordt education is a sacrifice—it can make you feel like you don’t have it all together.”
Hirsch says she had to remember that it’s okay to ask for help. “This is how the Lord is providing. This is part of my story and how the Lord is revealing his faithfulness and goodness,” she says.
This fall Hirsch is student teaching sixth graders at Sioux Center Christian School. She’d love to get a job teaching fourth or fifth grade. Right now, she is grateful to be able to spend her senior year on campus with her friends. Yes, the semester is different than previous ones—she can’t visit her friends’ rooms as much, and everyone has to wear masks when inside. “But there’s still so much joy to be found here, like Psalms 27 says, ‘the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’—it’s still played out and evident here.”
Hirsch is grateful for the chance to finish her senior year at Dordt, thanks to the Hope Fund.
“The worry, stress, and anxiety it took off students’ shoulders—finances are one less thing to worry about, because that’s something many of us students worry about. I am grateful that the donors listened to what the Lord had placed on their hearts. This education is worth my money, and I want to be here at Dordt. I am so thankful that the donors gave.”
Sophomore Eric Sanchez spent most of the summer walking. He didn’t have a car in Sioux Center, so if he wanted anything in town, he had to walk. He walked to Fareway for groceries and Walmart for other supplies. He walked across town to a job interview, which he landed. He walked around Dordt’s quiet campus when he talked on the phone with his parents, who were home in Fresno, California.
Staying on campus wasn’t how he’d planned to spend his summer months. But back when Covid-19 swept the world in March, Sanchez knew it would be best.
“I asked Dordt, ‘Can I stay?’ and they said, ‘Yes, this is your home,’” he says.
He moved from North Hall to Kuyper Apartments, where he roomed with a few other Dordt students. He took an online class to try to stay on top of his engineering studies. During downtime, he logged on to Instagram, which is where he first heard about the Hope Fund.
“President Hoekstra also shared a video, where he said, ‘If you need support, please ask us.’ I remember thinking, ‘Am I worth getting the Hope Fund?’ I wondered if there were other students who were struggling more than I was.”
Because much of the state of California was under lockdown, Sanchez’s father, who works in a body shop, didn’t have as much business as normal. Sanchez’s mother works at Walmart and saw her hours get cut significantly.
“I had to be careful with how much I spent, and for a time I couldn’t find a job in Sioux Center, either. It was a lot to think about and process—a scary moment.”
So, Sanchez decided to apply for the Hope Fund to help with his tuition.
“As soon as I saw I’d received the funds, I cried. I called my mom and dad, and they were just so grateful,” he says. “When I was in high school, people told me that you don’t get as much support in college, but I haven’t found that to be the case. Dordt has shown full support for me and held my hand along the way. I am so thankful.”
Sanchez knows that some Dordt students donated part of their room and board billing adjustment back to the Hope Fund—to help students like him be able to complete their Dordt degrees.
“To know that they gave to Dordt and that they’re helping students like me just feels good. I reached out to one of my friends and told him thank you. It’s hard to put the feelings into words besides just saying thank you.”
Now, Sanchez can continue pursuing his dream of becoming an aerospace engineer. He hopes he can land a SpaceX internship and perhaps go to graduate school someday; a Dordt education will help him to reach those goals.
“Dordt is great, and I’m so glad to be here,” he says.