A Transformational Visit: Building Bridges Between Hope Forward and The Hope-Western Prison Education Program

Jumping up from his seat, a student works out a theory on the whiteboard to better understand a concept in Dr. Griffin’s neuroscience class. He draws connections between the reading from the text, his personal faith and prior lessons. The students, fully engaged, nod in agreement with follow-up questions flowing. Similarly, in Dr. Andre’s pottery class down the hall, students are just as focused, attentive and engaged as they create new pieces of work that represent treasured experiences. As the classes come to a close, the students request additional reading material and express excitement for their homework. You may read this and think we’re making this up. What student asks for more homework? But we’ve been told that what we experienced in the Hope Western Prison Education Program (HWPEP) is par for the course among these three cohorts of students at the Muskegon Correctional Facility. These men demonstrate a palpable passion for learning and a drive to succeed that is nothing short of inspiring.

Contrary to what some may believe, the men at Muskegon Correctional Facility are more similar to their peers at Hope College than different. Both sets of students love learning and take their education seriously. And, they are eager to use their education to bless their communities by living into our mission at Hope College—to live lives of leadership and service. Additionally, both groups of students participate in visionary programs—Hope Forward and HWPEP—which focus on innovation in higher education through access, community and generosity.

As the Hope Forward program director and program coordinator, we have a front-row seat to the transformative impact that Hope Forward is having on undergraduate students at Hope College. Last week, we also witnessed firsthand the profound effect that HWPEP is having on students within the Muskegon Correctional Facility.

Hope Forward and HWPEP both offer a glimpse into educational transformation. With Hope Forward, students receive fully funded tuition provided by the generosity of donors and commit to give back after they graduate at any amount they choose so others have the same opportunity. Meanwhile, HWPEP provides incarcerated students a transformational education, rigorous academic opportunities, and a sense of belonging and purpose, made possible through the generosity of program donors. Both exemplify Hope College’s dedication to education, leadership and community impact, underscoring the transformative power of education across diverse contexts.

However, just as we can discuss the transformational experience of Hope Forward and HWPEP students, we must also acknowledge the ways in which these students are mutually transforming Hope College. To start, both programs challenge conventional notions of educational privilege and access, driving the institution to enhance equitable opportunities for all students. Furthermore, students infuse the institutional culture with a dynamic energy by enriching their own lives with purpose and living that purpose out during their time as students. As a result, they serve as living testaments and teachers of the transformative power of hope (both the concept and the place), leaving an indelible mark on the fabric and function of Hope College.

When we shared the principles of the Hope Forward program with the HWPEP cohorts, we were deeply moved by their response. The first question both groups asked was, “How can we give to Hope Forward?” Though an initial reaction may be to feel hesitant about receiving generosity from someone in these circumstances, fostering a culture of generosity is a core goal of Hope Forward. This simple question that was asked two times in a row struck a chord with us—here were individuals eager to give back and make a positive impact within their current circumstances. This shared commitment to generosity enriches the entire community, demonstrating that everyone, regardless of their situation, can contribute to and benefit from a culture of giving.

As we drove home with HWPEP Coordinator Amy Piscer, all three of us pondered a common question regarding our respective pilot programs: Are they working? With both programs set to graduate their first cohorts of seniors next spring, it’s a question that naturally arises. Amy shared insights from HWPEP’s leadership, who view the program as planting seeds that they hope will continue to flourish beyond the participants’ time in the program. Similarly, in Hope Forward, we find ourselves uncertain about what lies ahead for our inaugural cohort of students once they embark on their post-college journeys.

One obvious distinction between the two programs is the destination of their graduates: Hope Forward graduates will venture into various sectors of public life, while HWPEP graduates will re-enter different environments within the system. Some of the men will stay at the Muskegon Correctional Facility, some are up for parole, and some will return to correctional facilities outside their current context. No matter their trajectory, many of the men are excited to make a positive impact following the program. For instance, one HWPEP student who is up for parole wants to get a master’s of social work to help young men break free from cycles of familial turmoil, while another wants to start a writing program at whichever facility he’s in next. Some want to stay at MCF to help mentor future students in the program. Their excitement to leverage their Hope College education to bring hope to the world mirrors the anticipation we see in our Hope Forward students. Despite the unique paths our students in both programs may take, we share a common optimism that the transformational education and experiences provided by Hope College through HWPEP and Hope Forward will empower our students to lead lives of positive impact, wherever their futures may lead them.

The visit left a profound impression on us, igniting our eagerness to explore additional ways to support and learn from HWPEP. As of right now, both programs envision a meaningful exchange between our senior cohorts, where they will have space to reflect on their Hope College experiences using the same sets of questions, articulate their aspirations for positive impact in light of their transformational Hope College experiences, and hear from one another in the process. We firmly believe that both senior cohorts—Hope Forward and HWPEP—have much to offer each other, and we eagerly anticipate witnessing the transformation they will bring to one another, to Hope College and beyond.

Choosing How to Live

Live authentically with no apologies.

Jenn Drummond ’01 speaking at the Milestone Celebration.

That’s a mantra Hope College alumna and world record holder Jenn Drummond ’01 lives by. It’s something she learned as a student on Hope’s campus.

And it’s a foundational concept underlying our Hope Forward program.

Drummond, who is the first woman to reach all seven Second Summits (the second-highest mountains on each of the seven continents), has dedicated herself to motivating others to reach their own summits in life. She visited Hope College recently during Milestone Weekend to share her motivational message.

After a near fatal car accident in 2018 in which she wasn’t expected to survive, Drummond says she realized, “You don’t get to choose when you leave this life…but you sure can choose how to live it.”

Instead of continuing to pursue success as a business owner while being a stay-at-home mom to her seven children, the accident motivated Drummond to take stock of her priorities. She realized that she was living “the expectations that others had set” for her and decided to change course. She created a bucket list and set a goal to climb a mountain, which expanded to conquering all seven Second Summits.

This was not the first dramatic change of course in her life. When Drummond was an undergraduate at Hope College, she changed her major from pre-medicine to business.

“I had everything going for me when I decided to be pre-med,” she said. “Then Dr. [Graham] Peaslee pulled me aside. He cared enough to say, ‘Let’s think about this.’”

He talked to Drummond about the hours she would be spending at the library behind a desk studying like all the other pre-med students. Peaslee challenged her to consider whether that went along with her magnetic, “people person” personality. Days later, a Hope business law professor told her, “Jenn, you’re so built for business.” She changed her major that day and never looked back.

After graduating from Hope, she landed her first job in finance and later started her own company, often returning to her Hope professors for advice.

“Hope faculty were game changers for me,” Drummond said. “The professors knew me. I wasn’t just a number. They were willing to reach out to me and invest in me. And they supported me long after graduation.”

If Drummond could give advice to every Hope student like her professors gave to her, she would tell them, “Have the courage to listen to that inner calling and live it out.”

Students being able to live out their calling is one reason she values Hope Forward. Under Hope College’s revolutionary new funding model, the generosity of others provides fully-funded tuition for students. When they graduate, they agree to pay it forward at any amount they choose to allow others to have the same opportunity.

With tuition covered, students don’t feel forced to take jobs with high incomes to repay overwhelming debt, so they are free to pursue their calling. Or, in the words of Jenn Drummond, students are free “to be their authentic selves with no apologies.”

Receiving the gift of fully-funded tuition is a powerful gift, she said. Drummond remembers receiving a gift that her family couldn’t repay when she was growing up. Someone paid for landscaping to make their home a better fit for their family, an expense that they couldn’t afford at the time.

“That was the first time I was given a gift that I couldn’t repay,” she explained. “It’s a different kind of gift. You learn the significance of being able to give a gift that somebody else can’t repay. It gets you thinking: How can I do something that feels as good as this for someone else?”

This is what Hope Forward is all about. The funding model is based on Christ’s instructions “freely you have received; now freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) The ripple effect of gifted tuition is designed not only to bring hope to students who never thought they could afford college, but also to inspire students with a radical generosity that they will carry beyond campus to give generously to others, especially to those who cannot repay them.

A life-changing flight and a grateful heart inspires support for Hope Forward

Rajean “RJ” Wuerfel ’90 Wolters views Hope Forward as a “glimpse of heaven.” A harrowing experience in the sky inspires how and why she gives to the program.

Wolters, assistant to the dean of arts and humanities, typically gives some combination of 303 when she makes a financial gift to Hope Forward. It all goes back to Republic Flight 303 — the first cross-country commercial airline flight she had ever taken with her family for a trip to California.

While enroute, the engines silenced and she noticed black smoke coming from outside the plane.

“We were flying above Utah. There was smoke; silence; the plane began to point vertical to gain altitude; and then descend,” Wolters recalled. “The pilot announced that we were without engine power.”

“People were crying and saying goodbye to each other. People were praying. We all assumed the crash position.”

The plane eventually lost so much altitude that Wolters’ father could see cars on the highway, she said. Fortunately, the crash landing they were bracing for never happened. In the nick of time, the lights flashed on and the engines suddenly roared back to life, allowing the pilot to regain altitude and make an emergency landing in Las Vegas.

“We were spared that day,” Wolters said. “God has a plan.”

After that life-changing experience, Wolters and her family started noticing the number 303 everywhere. When Wolters was a freshman at Hope College, she lived in Gilmore Room 303. The last three digits of her mom’s phone extension at work were 303. Another family member lived at an address with the number 303. Often, when she looks at her watch, the exact time is 3:03. 

When she makes a financial contribution to Hope Forward in some combination of 303, Wolters said it’s a tangible reminder of how God saved her and her family’s lives. Her giving, however, is inspired by more than the fateful flight. Wolters also gives out of a grateful heart for the way her Hope College campus experience as a student and, later, as an employee changed her life.

“Hope does such a great job preparing you for life and providing you with a variety of experiences,” she said.

Wolters majored in education at Hope and participated in a variety of co-curricular activities: Sibylline (SIB) Sorority, a semester in Philadelphia and work as a student assistant in the provost’s office. Even as an alumna, she participated in a London teaching term along with other alumni and a group of Hope College students.

“Hope is one of those places that has definitely planted the seeds of transformation and continues to nourish and grow that transformation,” Wolters added.

With her education degree, Wolters taught elementary and middle school at Holland Public School for 15 years. Near the end of her teaching career, she contracted a virus that shut down her pancreas causing her to become a type 1 diabetic. After her diagnosis, she could no longer maintain her health while keeping up with teaching and caring for her family, especially when her husband, Tim, was moved to third shift. They have a son, Jarod, who graduated from Hope in 2019 and married alumna Kelly Arnold ’19 Wolters.

Desiring to stay connected with education in some way, Wolters applied for a job at Hope and was hired to work in the dean’s office.  

“It was more than a job,” she said. “It saved my life.”

She comes to work every day to support the mission of Hope College, which is focused on transforming students’ lives in the same way Hope had been instrumental in changing her life. 

Hope Forward is more than a program that filters through the financial weights of student debt,” Wolters explained. “Hope Forward is a way of living which is biblically based.”

As Christ has freely given His life for us, we should freely give to others, she added. Christ’s example is the basis for Hope Forward, which provides gifted tuition to students funded by generous donors. In return, Hope Forward students sign a covenant to give back to Hope at any amount of their choosing when they graduate so that others can have the same opportunity. 

To Wolters, Hope Forward gifted tuition means freedom for students to get a full liberal arts experience so they can be exposed to different learning experiences on and off campus.

Hope Forward means freedom to be immersed in different cultures,” she enthused. “Because students from all over the world become part of the cohort, Hope Forward also brings different cultures to campus. Hope Forward allows students to have a breadth and depth of experiences so they can go further. Why wouldn’t you want that for everyone?”

“The more we are able to break down barriers, the more we can bring the world to Hope and Hope to the world,” she said, referring to the diversity of students who come to Hope when the barrier of affording tuition is removed. “It’s a glimpse of heaven.”

Wolters often repeats her mantra of “God’s immeasurably more” from Ephesians 3:20 — “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” 

God has done immeasurably more than she could imagine in sparing her and her family’s lives on flight 303; in providing her a job at Hope College; and in using her on campus to help students have a transformational experience.

She also sees “God’s immeasurably more” at work through Hope Forward, where one day all students will be able to receive gifted tuition so they can fulfill their calling without crushing student debt and give back so others will always have the same opportunity.

Positive Impact Banquet

Hope Forward Impact Banquet

Sitting at a recent Hope Forward Positive Impact Banquet, I had a realization.

While the freshmen students were thanking the guests they invited for the positive impact that they had on them during their first year on campus, perhaps the bigger impact has been how the Hope Forward cohort has positively affected the Hope College campus community.

Isn’t that just like grace? When you set out to do something extraordinarily kind to someone else — like fully funding tuition for students so they are not saddled with overwhelming debt — you end up being more blessed as the giver than the receiver.

In this case, Hope College has been blessed by the incredible generosity of donors for the Hope Forward program. We’ve passed that on by covering the tuition cost for each Hope Forward student. Far from being entitled, these students are deeply grateful for receiving a transformative Christian liberal arts education and that gratefulness is expressing itself in tangible ways that are transforming campus.

Hope Forward students entrusted with the gift of tuition don’t want to let down donors who believe in them. They are fully invested in their education. Students also say they feel the full weight of the covenant they’ve made to give back to Hope faithfully after graduation (at any amount they choose) so even more students can have the same opportunity.

In their Hope Forward co-curricular programming, they not only build community to support each other, but also discuss practical issues like budgeting, managing money, and cultivating gratitude and other character qualities. Students are delving deeply into what it means to be generous and how to live a lifestyle of generosity starting now, while they are on campus. That’s just what they are doing.

Hope Forward Impact Banquet

From the Positive Impact Banquet, here’s a snapshot of what Hope Forward students are learning, what they’re thankful for, and what they want to pass on to others because of what others have done for them:

“We’re living an answered prayer that we get to attend an amazing college.”
“I’ve learned grace — kindness, helpfulness and acceptance by others. It’s not selective. We all need it.”
“Part of giving and receiving grace means forgiveness. You need to give grace to others and to yourself.”
“Being present for others takes commitment and selfless love, something all of you have done.” “Thank you for your whole-hearted care.”
“Generosity is not just about giving financially. It’s giving of your treasures, time and talents. We look to you all with admiration and a desire to give the way you have given to us.”
“Thank you for carrying us on your shoulders and raising us up to be all we can be.”
“Thank you for helping me know that I am not alone.”
“I’ve learned more about the heart, love and character of God through you.”
“Thank you for taking me in on breaks, throwing me a birthday party and having my favorite foods when I come to stay.”
“Thank you for your compassion, generosity and listening ear. You’re my second mom on campus.”
“You’ve inspired me and pushed me to be the best version of myself.”
“My professor did not shy away from reaching out to me during difficult times. He goes above and beyond.”
“You always brighten my day by being someone I can talk to — and always giving me sandwich cookies!”

From something as simple as giving a sandwich cookie to something as significant as faithfully supporting a student with serious health issues, these Hope Forward students couldn’t be more thankful for the positive impact others have had on them during their freshman year.

But, these recipients of generosity and grace aren’t waiting until they graduate to pay it forward. They are spreading it to others— in classrooms, dorms, athletic arenas, study groups, student organizations, dining halls and everywhere they go on campus. Our Hope Forward students are a tangible demonstration of the beautiful ripple effect of God’s grace.

Hope Forward Impact Banquet

Immersed in Hope: Nashville, Tennessee 

Hope College Spring Break Immersion Trips change students’ perspectives. This year’s trip to Nashville changed mine. Hope College Campus Ministries offers these opportunities for students to travel domestically and internationally. The goal of the short-term service-learning experience is to fully immerse students in an environment, focusing on living out our Christian faith of loving God and loving others. 

“We are not sent to save the world but to serve the world in the name of the God who saves” Hope College Campus Ministries 

Nineteen students and leaders spent the week working with City Service Mission (CSM) — a program that provides short-term Christian mission experiences in urban settings. CSM allowed us to connect with several different nonprofit organizations in the city center. The non-profits ranged from Day Shelters for people experiencing homelessness, to Urban Farming Centers dedicated to helping those dealing with food insecurity, to environmental projects. After my time in Nashville, I reflected on the pillars of Hope Forward: Community, Access and Generosity, and how they were deeply woven into our experience. 


People Loving Nashville (PLN), is an organization focused on building community and providing people with basic resources. Every Monday night for the past fifteen years, PLN has hosted a block-party-style event providing services to people experiencing homelessness. Everyone at the event gets to participate in this truly beautiful community. The night that we were there the resources provided included popup showers, meals, coffee and even pet care for those who have animal companions. 

Our group’s role was community engagement. I had an amazing time getting to know others and just hearing people’s stories. There I saw barriers being broken between those who are experiencing homelessness and the volunteers. There were no “us and them” categories, just people having conversations and enjoying each other’s company. Everyone was looking after one another. What was really interesting was seeing people who have been going to PLN for a while and the familial atmosphere that existed in people’s interactions. I walked away wondering what my own community would be like if we all looked after one another. PLN gave me a little taste of what that could look like. No more categories of who belonged and who didn’t. Simply, everyone belonged in this community. It was so beautiful. 


Access breaks down barriers. We visited areas abundant with opportunity, and others, negatively impacted by gentrification. One of the days we volunteered with Project Cure, a non-profit that delivers medical supplies and equipment to developing countries. We worked in their warehouse organizing boxed-up medical supplies to be shipped around the world. One shipment that day was sent to Gaza. I think it is surreal. The supplies we assembled will be sent to places seemingly unreachable. 

This experience made me more aware of my privileges. It reminded me, not everyone has the same level of access I do, and how my access to resources can be a barrier to access for others. Our specific backgrounds are determined by the societal systems we live under. The systems of power and oppression we saw alive in Nashville are the same ones I have seen throughout my life. Homelessness is a huge epidemic in not just Nashville, but the United States as a whole. Without access to affordable housing or a community having the resources to help, people can be left behind. It shouldn’t be a surprise that people struggle when there is almost no way of receiving aid. My experiences working with nonprofits, like Project Cure, remind me that problems aren’t going to fix themselves. We need to work together to dismantle the barriers that leave people behind. 


Generosity is contagious. I give because I receive blessings from others. In Nashville, we encountered radical hospitality. We learned from the non-profit workers that respect was something that should be generously given. The workers welcomed every individual knowing they are full of dignity. In their world, no one is below or above. This radical hospitality was clearly presented in every non-profit worker we met. I discovered that, by just being curious and hearing people’s stories, I saw them more fully. Empathy is what fuels generosity and in turn, generosity fuels even more generosity. Start asking yourself, “How can I grow in empathy?” Empathy will give you the capacity to give. I know it’s true, these non-profit workers and regular volunteers are living examples. 

Returning to Hope 

Ironically, as both a social work major and Hope Forward student, I grew in optimism about the difference we can make. Some problems are deeply rooted in the fabric of our society. While the problems we face are complex, positive change is still possible. We saw it with our own eyes! Encountering a problem as close to the ground as possible builds understanding. By asking yourself and your community how to bring hope to it, we discover a beautiful community that we might never have imagined, and the new friends we meet along the way help us grow in hope.

Growing in Generosity

Generosity and giving are anything but boring for Hope Forward students.

Some hyperextended elbows, performed 32 fouettés (famous Swan Lake ballet move), did cartwheels, solved a Rubix cube puzzle while on a balance board, impersonated zombie sounds from Minecraft and shared many other unique talents all in the name of generosity.

Hope Forward program juniors organized the talent show as a motivator to gather all the Hope Forward students on Day of Giving — Hope College’s biggest giving event of the year — and encourage each of them to give to what they love on campus.

And, it worked! Almost three-quarters of Hope Forward students made a donation on Day of Giving compared to 27% of the cohort who gave at the same time last year. In comparison, 2% of students who are not part of the Hope Forward program made a gift on Day of Giving.

What excites Hope Forward Program Director Nicole Dunteman most is that students are growing in their understanding of generosity, a pillar of the Hope Forward program. She’s thrilled to see them take personal steps to be generous in many areas of their lives, which includes much more than financial giving, she said. Seeing the juniors step up and take leadership also has been heartwarming, she added.

Many students who made gifts on Day of Giving said they are eager to start giving now instead of waiting until they get a job when they graduate.

“I gave because giving is a muscle and we need to strengthen those muscles for when we graduate,” said Katie, a freshman nursing student. “When we graduate, we will be giving back so it’s important to give now.”

All Hope Forward students sign a covenant with Hope College establishing a life-long relationship with the campus community and making a commitment to give to Hope yearly after graduation at any amount they choose. Already, students are taking this responsibility seriously.

“Hope Forward is a great idea. It’s giving hope to students by paying for their full tuition,” said Yessica. “I’m giving to Hope College so other people can have the same opportunity as we’re having.”

The elementary education major from Honduras said she wished she could give to all the departments at Hope because of the deep impact they’ve had on her.

“I’ve had to overcome a lot of challenges, like culture shock and talking in English all the time,” Yessica explained. “All the departments at Hope have been so supportive. I would never have had this opportunity in Honduras.”

Student organizers made a friendly competition out giving by dividing the Hope Forward cohort into six geographical regions to see who would be the most generous. Out of the six groups made up of students from the Eastern Hemisphere, Western Hemisphere, Southern U.S., Northeastern U.S., Western U.S. and the Midwest, those from the Northeast won with 87% of the students making a donation.

“I don’t have a lot to give, but knowing someone matched every student’s gift really motivated me. I knew my small gift would turn into much more,” Katie said.

On Day of Giving, the Matick family committed to matching every student gift, not just those in the Hope Forward program, with an additional $80 gift to the Hope Fund.

“Giving something small can have a lot of meaning,”
said Monty, a junior. “Even $1 can be powerful if that’s what each of us gives. It shows we believe in what we are a part of.”

Monty, a social work and psychology double major, said that she would have been forced to choose a different career path if she had student loans to repay because social workers earn a lower wage than many other careers. She can follow her passion because of Hope Forward’s gifted tuition. She wants future students to be able to follow their passions, too, without being held back by debt.

Student Art Sparks Hope and Dreams

In order to do the art project, students revisit the original essay they wrote during the Hope Forward application process and consider what their past means for their present and future. The following questions guide reflection:

Why did you apply to Hope Forward? Why did you apply to Hope College?
What has changed since last year? What has remained the same? How have you grown? Take some time to dream about your future self. What three words do you want your life to reflect? Using these reflections, students select a plant with a meaning that encompasses an identified aspect of themselves. As a guide, they explore the traditional meanings of plants within art history and across cultures. From there, students sketch their plant, carve a block, print their plant, and develop an artist’s statement.

Each January, the freshmen Hope Forward students have a cohort retreat to develop a cohort community covenant, spend time in individual reflection and goal setting, and create block prints as a reflective exercise to consider their own strengths, growth and hope for future impact.

The following are a few of the prints and accompanying artists statements from the 2027 Cohort:

Fireweed is a plant that grows in Alaska in the summer; it springs up in areas that wildfires have swept through. Fireweed symbolizes persistence, peace, growth, community, beauty in areas of devastation, and healing.

Moving forward, these are qualities that I hope to demonstrate and share in my life. Ultimately, fireweed is a symbol of hope that can blossom even in situations that seem unredeemable. It is also a representation of my home state.

Hope springs up, always.

I decided to do a bouquet of herbs. I did this because I love to cook and add flavoring to my food. And, I want to be a nurse, so I chose to draw 3 healing herbs:

1) Echinacea—boosts the immune system and aids in healing. It is a symbol of strength, too.

2) Lemon balm—symbol for wisdom and calm.

3) Ashwagandha—reduces stress and anxiety, and promotes brain health. Its root word also means horse and stands for power.

The snapdragon represents protection from evil. My whole life, I had been told that “that’s the way the world works” when I asked why there was so much hurt in the world. I strive to grow to be a world challenger. I want to bring up the uncomfortable conversation that might cause controversy. I chose to print two flowers to represent the duality that comes with going against the flow of the world. The side of fear and the side of thrill for change.

Gladiolus symbolizes strength of character, faithfulness and remembrance. The past few years have been really hard on me, and this flower reminds me of the strength I have and how I’m able to overcome anything with my faith in God. This flower also reminds me of my parents and I really want to become like them as I grow older.

I chose to print a dahlia flower because of the significance: grace under pressure. Grace, especially in high pressure situations, is imperative to employ. Choosing grace over stress is a value I hold dear to my heart and has been instilled in me by my parents. Grace is also a word that reminds me to be resilient and be empowered by strength and give my worries to the Lord. Change is inevitable in life and a factor that is challenging for me to cope with. However, when choosing grace, all will be well and still in the light of the Lord.

The blue iris represents purity, wisdom, faith and hope. Those are all values I strive to embody in my everyday life. I love knowledge and the pursuit of it. I try to be the most pure version of myself and to be vulnerable. I try to provide hope even in the worst situations.

These are just six prints representing a collection of 25 others from this cohort. To visually indicate students’ commitment to their Hope Forward learning community, they bring their carvings together to create a collaborative piece at the end of the retreat—allowing them to envision themselves among a grander ecosystem to which they belong and from which they give and receive.

If you’re interested in learning more about this project or seeing other prints, feel free to email Hope Forward Program Coordinator Erin Drews: drews@hope.edu.

Inspired by “Tuesdays with Morrie”

Whenever I think about Hope Forward, I am reminded of Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom.
The popular book was turned into a play. In the fall of my freshman year at Hope, I was given the opportunity to see it in the theater as a part of the Hope Forward program, and man did I sob through most of it.

It is a story about what Albom learns from his former professor Morrie, who is ill. The whole story revolves around their Tuesday meetings where Morrie talks about giving and how giving makes him feel like he is living. Morrie has this unreasonable attitude throughout the entirety of the story even though he knows that he is dying.

Morrie was willing to generously give his limited time and energy to care more about others than himself, even though he had every right to be self-focused. People would come and visit Morrie because they wanted to comfort him, but they were the ones who would leave feeling encouraged and heard.

Morrie’s generosity reminds me of Hope Forward.

The donors who generously give to this amazing program play the role of Morrie. They are giving so that each of us can pursue our individual passions to bring hope to the world—without having to worry about paying off college debt. They are loving us well by giving us the opportunity to bring hope to other students down the line who we will eventually give to so they can be part of the program. These donors have a beautiful sense of giving that will impact future generations.

What I love about impact is that it stays with a person everywhere they go and touches whomever they come in contact with. Donors are having a tremendous impact on each one of us through their generosity; then, we get to take it and spread it along to the world – just like Morrie did.

Those who are given much are expected to do much with it. The Hope Forward culture is centered around giving—it starts with someone giving to us. Giving back is not required. It’s simply our natural response from grateful hearts.

This is truly an amazing program, and I can’t wait to see how it changes the future!

The Gift of Presence

What is presence? I wouldn’t know because I have always evaded the feeling. Since I was a child, I was on the move–waking up early or dragging my sister out the door so we wouldn’t be “late” to school. I didn’t like slowing down because life was about busyness and never losing a moment. When I stopped to feel the gravity of life in real-time, I panicked at the vast emptiness of the moment and all the things that would never get done because I had paused. Somehow, there was never enough time, and it felt like losing again and again.

Loss itself was an acquaintance I knew well. After living in a beautiful and communal hillside community in Northern India, I was whisked back to the fast-paced and distracted American life. Was I supposed to hurl myself into the productivity deep end to fit in here? Supposedly, and I did. I hopped onto the conveyor belt of busyness while trying to love the new school community I was a part of. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel distracted while doing it. I was looking ahead to the future, excited for all the possibilities ahead, while also living in deep anguish, fearful of losing all the people I had grown to love. All of senior year was clouded with looming dread and pre-sadness for the ending, and all of freshman year of college was feeling the grief of losing it. I was angry. Time was the enemy, always running ahead while I desperately tried to catch up. However, I discovered that the time I was chasing no longer existed.

During my first year at Hope, I lived in a dream world–an ideal future where I would teach at my high school. I truly loved education, but in this situation, I was hopeful for a taste of my fading past. With that in mind, I ran to the education department to make a plan for the next four years and the rest of my life. I was content because everything fit, like Tetris blocks falling perfectly into place, convincing me everything was fine. Yet, even with all the plans, I was bitter about my life, yearning to grasp the dying memory of high school. I wanted something I could never have but failed to realize that.

However, over time, my education plan weighed on me. I felt restricted, unhappy, and torn between what I needed in the present and what I loved before. I panicked, declared something else, and figured out how to graduate early and get out of college as fast as possible. I was scared of being at Hope without education as my future, without my friends in the grade above me, and worst of all, without a plan. I dreaded the ending like I had many times before, rather than living my life.

During those uncertain times, my communities re-grounded me. In the past, my teachers helped me through difficult times, and in college, the Hope Forward community reminded me why I was here. During the application process, I was considered for Hope Forward because people believed in me, not my test scores or extracurriculars, but rather, my heart and soul. Through their faith and belief that I could help give to the program, I was given a gift of education, something that fed my purpose more than anything. Furthermore, the first time I met the people in my cohort, I was deeply inspired by their purpose, love, and care for their communities. I wanted to live with that kind of stewardship for those around me in the ways that they did. Most of all, I was learning that giving was not only monetary; it also came through our attention, love, and time. Those small gifts were perhaps the greatest ones of all.

Hope Forward was so generous and loving, but why was I afraid to be present in this place? Why did I want to leave so badly? I wondered the same thing, but perhaps it was all the previous losses and leaving that made me afraid of loving this one. I thought that if I loved this community too much, I would love the other one less, or even worse, I would only lose this one too. Over the past semester, I was reminded that it was okay to love good and beautiful things and that life can contain many chapters instead of one. But it was when I watched my Hope Forward friend give her Pechca Kucha on the meaning of home that I knew I could be present in college. She posed the question, “What is home?” when our understanding of home is muddled, complicated, or even lost. She explained that maybe home existed in these physical places, but also, within ourselves everywhere we go. We were “home bearers,” and so were the people around us.

The past I was chasing were still memories I carried, beautiful and important as ever, but so were the moments in the present and the ones ahead. To love the present was not to love the past less; it was to refocus the love on something tangible and life-giving. I was learning to trust that whatever future lay beyond would unfold into something wonderful. Now was the time to live, and give to the people who gave that time to me.

I cannot say that my old mentality has been eradicated; change comes in small increments as most change does. What I can say is that I am learning to embrace time as something precious and beautiful, rather than something to lose. Receiving the gift of education is not about seizing a degree; it’s about being present for the community I am part of building. It’s about learning that there will be time and love in the places that give. I learn this more every day.

Hope Parents’ Gift will Change Lives

Nancy Estabrook walked away from a gathering in Carmel, Ind., where President Matthew Scogin talked about Hope Forward, inspired that she could be a part of changing students’ lives.

She and her husband, Neil, decided soon after the meeting for friends, parents and alumni of Hope College that they wanted to give to support Hope Forward and sent a check without delay.

“This could really change the lives of some students,” said Nancy. “We believe in giving to causes like that.”

The Estabrooks, whose daughter Jessica is a senior at Hope, were most attracted to the Christian focus of Hope Forward, a financial model where students receive gifted tuition paid for by generous donors and agree to pay it forward after they graduate so other students will have the same opportunity.

“This is not a have to pay this back back but give back as you can,” explained Nancy. “It’s a covenant. I love that word. Hope Forward embodies a lot of the Christian values and mission Hope has. I think it can work. I really do.”

Shortly after being appointed to his post five years ago, President Scogin launched Hope Forward to solve the problem of overwhelming student debt. The Estabrooks originally learned about the program through newsletters and emails from Hope. What excited them most, however, was how President Scogin described the biblical basis for Hope Forward.

“He talked about Jesus coming with an upside down economy,” said Nancy. “The purpose of money is not to get as much as you can and keep it for yourself. The purpose of money is to use it for others and give it away.”

Hope Forward’s reliance on student gratitude for the tremendous gift of someone paying for their tuition and their integrity to give back is one of the main reasons the Estabrooks think the model will work.

“These students at Hope are special. We’ve watched Jessica and the students at the college as a whole interact with each other,” said Nancy, who has been on campus and around the Holland area many times to watch her daughter compete on Hope’s swim team. “We’ve been to chapel a couple of times and were blown away by how many students were there, even though it’s not required. That’s one of the things that made us realize what a special place Hope is.”

“Students would take that covenant/commitment and make good on it,” she said, referring to her belief that students would be motivated by gratitude and give back to Hope when they graduate.

Nancy emphasized that she sees Hope’s campus as a generous community filled with people who care about each other, especially during the pandemic.

“Hope put students first and kept saying, ‘We want you here,’” Nancy said. “They put the responsibility on the students: Here’s what you need to do to be on campus. They relied on students to do the right thing. And, they did.”

According to the Estabrooks, this mindset will help make Hope Forward successful. Even in their optimism, they freely admit that making it work will have challenges. They realize that money has to come from somewhere to get Hope Forward started—from people like them who believe it will work.

“This is a way to show your faith, that you believe in these students and give to them so that they can pay it forward,” said Nancy.

That’s just what their family is doing.