Residence Hall Partnerships Build Community

One sunny afternoon, Bethel students gathered in the back yards of homes that line the perimeter of campus. They grilled chicken, sliced watermelon and set out a board and beanbags for a game of corn hole. All this was for their guests — young adults and teens from Michiana Down Syndrome (MDS).

Bethel seniors Amanda Yoder and Brittini Whetstone, along with sophomore Drew Voss enjoy an afternoon with MDS friends.

As part of an all-campus effort to provide service to others — one of Bethel’s core values — each residence hall is matched with a nonprofit organization in the Michiana area for the school year. For the students living in perimeter housing and Eastwood Hall, their match is MDS.

Though the idea is for the students to bless the organizations, Zachary Gillis, an alumnus, assistant resident director and campus coordinator for the center for intercultural development, says the students often leave feeling blessed.

“Every time we are around them, the kids of Michiana Down Syndrome paint us a picture of resilience,” he says. “They are in a world where people will limit you because of a disability or a handicap. But they don’t let anything stop them.”

President of Michiana Down Syndrome Kathy Ratkiewicz has been very pleased with the Bethel partnership. She says parents of the children and teens of MDS have also been impressed with the genuine care of the students who serve.

“The Bethel students see [kids with Down Syndrome] as real people and treat them with dignity and as individuals,” Ratkiewicz says.

Drew Vos, a Bethel College sophomore, found the opportunity to serve with MDS when his resident assistant encouraged him to get involved.

“There was no set schedule other than to hang out, have fun and all go to the soccer game afterwards,” says Vos. “I had a really great time and it was fun getting to know the kids.”

Spending quality time is what the residential hall partnership is all about. In the past, students have organized pizza parties, movie nights, holiday parties, fundraisers and dances for their friends at MDS. This year, like last year, they’re looking forward to taking their MDS friends to the Bethel Christmas concert in December.

Ratkiewicz hopes that in the future, even more Bethel students will volunteer. She says participation from MDS teens has also increased since the Bethel students got involved.

The residence hall match is one of many opportunities offered for Bethel students to serve beyond the campus. Ratkiewicz, Gillis, and Vos are all emphatic about encouraging students to participate in the program.

“The big picture of the Christian faith is to love. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. That is what we are showing through this program. That is a charge for us to get involved with our opportunities of service,” says Gillis.

The community of Bethel doesn’t simply consist of course work. Students like those involved in MDS and staff members like Gillis want to contribute and make a difference.

“It shows the community that we stand by our motto ‘Christ at the helm.’ We are Christ’s hands and feet,” Gillis says.

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