Role Models at the Renaissance School
Written by Minte Christiansen
“I was looking for opportunities to do something meaningful in the Hillsdale Community,” says Shelly Peters, a senior Christian Studies major. Shelly, along with nearly forty other Hillsdale students, volunteers with the Renaissance School program led by senior math major Sam Ryskamp.
The Renaissance school is one of Hillsdale College’s GOAL, or Great Opportunities for Assistance and Leadership, programs. Within the GOAL programs, student leaders from all across campus organize volunteers to work for non-profits in the Hillsdale area. Sam Ryskamp, one of these leaders, brought the Renaissance school program to its feet last Fall. Since then, it has flourished.
The program started small; when Sam began volunteering, only a handful of volunteers were visiting a single school. “But now we’re really broadening our impact—we’re looking at other schools in the area who need attention, too,” Sam says.
The Renaissance School, located on the outskirts of Hillsdale, only has 15-20 junior high school students. Let it not be said, though, that the school’s size diminishes its goal: these students are here for a reason—some, for help with grades, others to work through social or behavioral difficulties, and a few, even, for parole.
“It’s great to give these kids a positive example,” Sam Ryskamp tells me. “By building relationships with them, making friends with them, we show them they can go on to do some impressive things.”
Shelly Peters also recognized what a good friend and mentor could do for the school’s kids. “After the first time I stepped through the doors of the school, I realized that these children would thrive from weekly friendship and love,” she tells me. “One week turned into a whole year of unexpected blessings and friendships.”
Math and Christian studies major Sam Clausen works in conjunction with the Renaissance program, heading up a weekly event called Wild Wednesday, which invites the kids to Hillsdale’s campus.
“We don’t do anything special,” Clausen adds. “We play basketball, cards, help with homework, or just tell stories. These kids can really benefit from having a mentor. We can show them a lot about life simply by being their friend.”
Last year, volunteers held a Thanksgiving Potluck at the school for all the students, their families, and their teachers. Male volunteers have also hosted a “Manquet” (a Man Banquet) involving a grill-out and football. In the meantime, female volunteers took interested students on an outing to downtown Hillsdale.
College volunteers make weekly visits to the Renaissance school, with different groups going everyday to spend an hour with the kids. “It’s really flexible,” Ryskamp says: “A college volunteer’s most valuable asset is time, but this fits into anyone’s schedule.”
As the program’s director, Ryskamp, has seen incredible changes in the kids he works with at the school. “At the beginning of the year, when we’d play football, they would mess around and break all the rules. By the end of the year, they were organizing themselves into teams, shaking hands, picking captains. It really is amazing.”
The program doesn’t only help the Renaissance school kids, though; it’s a gift in the lives of the students who volunteer. “I have been incredibly blessed by my friendship with these children,” Shelly tells me happily. “It’s even prompted me to consider pursuing a career in social work with children.”
“Here’s a place where college kids can learn to love their neighbors,” Ryskamp says. “Everyone at college is inspired to change the world once they graduate, but the only way to love your neighbor tomorrow is to start doing it today. As volunteers, we’re learning how easy it is to reach out, to build relationships, and to make friends. There’s a real joy in serving others.”
Minte Christiansen is a junior majoring in English with minors in Art and Classical Education. She is a member of the Eta Sigma Phi Classics Honorary and the Alpha Rho Tau Art Honorary, where she is the secretary. Minte is also on the Event Planning Board for the Hillsdale Lutheran Society, and she is the Student House Director of Mauck Dormitory.