National Recognition for Disability Concerns Advocate Thomas Hoeksema

On June 29, Dr. Thomas Hoeksema, former chair of the Christian Reformed Church’s Committee on Disability Concerns, was presented the 2017 Henri Nouwen Award. The award recognizes an individual with compassion for and a commitment to people who have developmental disabilities, and who is dedicated to expanding and enhancing the understanding of their spiritual needs and gifts.

Presented by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) Religion and Spirituality Division, the ceremony took place in Hartford, Conn., at the organization’s annual national convention.

The Henri Nouwen Award is bestowed upon a recipient who is nominated by his or her peers. Hoeksema was nominated by his peers at CLC Network (formerly Christian Learning Center).

“If somehow this award can remind people of Nouwen’s virtues, and if my life in some way reflected those too, then I’m happy,” said Hoeksema, a member at Grace Christian Reformed Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.). “[Nouwen] fundamentally changed how I and many others value people with disabilities. They have gifts, and those gifts need to be unwrapped, shared, and received.”

Hoeksema has dedicated his entire 40-year career to coming alongside people with disabilities and their families, working to improve inclusivity and accessibility in society.

As a professor at Calvin College, Hoeksema helped pioneer the special education program in 1978. He also created the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities, worked with the college to eliminate barriers for students with limited mobility, and served as the director of the college’s Institute on Inclusive Schooling from 1997-2001.

Hoeksema was a founder and board member of CLC Network, which strives to empower schools and churches to educate and include people with disabilities. He also served as a board member for Friendship Ministries, the International Journal of Whole Schooling, and the Journal of Religion, Disability and Health (now Journal of Disability & Religion).

“God put in me an awareness of people who were sometimes invisible to others. I don’t claim credit for that; it was just in me,” said Hoeksema. “All I could do was respond with my heart and mind and my whole self. My desire was to change the church, change the school, change the workplace and the world in ways that would make it something closer to what God would want it to be.”

About the Author

Lori Dykstra is a freelance writer.