In 1968, when counselor Nellie Harbers (now Jonkman) began working with a group of girls at Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Acton, Ont., she had no idea that the outworking of their faith would translate into nearly five decades of friendship and support. Back then the girls’ club ministry was called Calvinettes; the name was changed to GEMS in 1995.
For six years she was counselor to the same group of girls until they graduated from the club at age 16. In September 2016, seven of these former Calvinettes and Jonkman gathered for a weekend reunion at a cottage in Sauble Beach, Ont., to reminisce about their time together and to celebrate the gifts God has given them in their lasting relationships.
Sonya Lenos, a member of the original group who now attends Ebenezer CRC in Jarvis, Ont., said “GEMS and Calvinettes was such an integral part of growing up in the CRC; you don’t really understand the impact that a counselor can have on young people. We only had one counselor our whole Calvinette experience. It was just Nellie. And that’s what helped to build that relationship.”
Lenos said that over the years, the bond they formed as young people allowed these women a safe space to share as they met on several occasions for reunions and get-togethers in a more genuine way than is typical on social media. “We could be honest with each other . . . we could be authentic with one another and not feel we were ‘less than’,” Lenos said.
“Spending a whole weekend together last September was the ultimate reunion,” Jonkman said. “We all agreed it was due to God's faithfulness to each one of us that we were able to experience this unique bond. I could have never dreamed at the time I was their counselor that we would still be connected now. I was blessed to have a special group of girls and treasure the relationship we now have.” Jonkman is now a member of Georgetown (Ont.) CRC.
GEMS leadership agrees that this group has something special. Lenos said after sharing the group’s reunion photo, the organization decided to use it on a postcard distributed to girls as an invitation to join a local club.