Congratulations, Judy Vander Wilt!

Congratulations to Hope Church member Judy Vander Wilt!!! Recently, Judy was honored by the Lakeshore Disability Network along with 10 other outstanding disability advocates in Ottawa and Allegan counties during the Ability Award reception at Baker Lofts, in Holland.

The article below illustrates the many ways Judy has engaged in leadership, advocacy, and empowerment of people with disabilities throughout her life.

Bless you for being a blessing, Judy!!

Judy Vander Wilt is a wife, mother, grandmother, educator, leader, organizer and committed woman who has devoted her life to empowering, encouraging, supporting and advocating for people with disabilities.

As a young mother, Judy parented a child with learning challenges prior to PL94.142 and became an advocate for services for him – which in turn drove her passion to fight for all children.

When Judy taught in pre-school programs, she became sensitized to the special needs of some young children. This led her to return to the university to become certified to work with children with special needs, earning a Masters Degree in Special Education. This resulted in being certified for working with young children (birth to age 6) and with children (grades K-12) who needed social-emotional support. Later, she added certification for working with children with learning disabilities.

She began the PPI (Pre-Primary Impaired) program for Zeeland Public Schools, working there for 5 years. This program served children ages 3-6.

When she moved to Orange City, IA, she chaired a community committee which began a Friendship Program for persons with special needs. This program continues to thrive.

In 1984, her teaching shifted to the college level, where she taught pre-service teachers for over 20 years in both undergraduate and graduate programs. During these years she completed a Doctor of Education with a focus on educational psychology, which strengthened her interest in how people learn.

Her teaching included certificate-track courses for special education teachers. Her primary interests were speech and language development as well as behavioral issues.

In her retirement years, she joined the Friendship Ministries Board, an international program which shares the Christian gospel with persons with cognitive disabilities. In this role she was vice-president for one year and president for two years.

Additionally, she serves as the Disability Advocate on behalf of the Reformed Church in America for the Holland Classis, where she assists churches as they embrace persons with special needs, encouraging a sense of belonging and service for and with all persons.
Finally, she chairs the Disability Task Force at Hope Church where she, along with others, seeks to make the church a welcoming place for all, regardless of ability, and a place where all persons’ gifts are received with gratitude. Most recently, she has been a strong advocate for helping insure that all spaces are accessible to all.

Judy has directly or indirectly impacted thousands of persons with disabilities, and her work in this field continues.