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What Hope Means: The VanSkiver Family Story

February 26, 2020

19-year-old CJ VanSkiver is a pretty typical woman: she lives in Forest Hills, a suburb of Grand Rapids, she takes college classes at Grand Rapids Community College’s Noorthoek Academy, she has a steady job, and she loves to play basketball and spend time with friends. She lives the same kind of life that most people her age do. But because CJ was born neurodivergent (a neurodivergent, or ND, person is defined as one whose neurological development and state are atypical), her path into adulthood has had its challenges. While it can be easy to get hung up on that fact, in spending time with CJ it quickly becomes apparent that she isn’t so easily defined. Her ambition is quite evident, her sense of humor shows up at the drop of a hat, and her passion is contagious.

You wouldn’t know it by the smile she always wears, but CJ has spent much of her life overcoming barriers and preconceived notions about her capability. But thanks, in part, to the work done by Hope Network, she’s able to share all that she is with the world, and take her place in the community.

She is a graduate of an international workforce development program for adults with special needs called Project Search. A partner to this program, Hope Network works on-site as a liaison between interns and employers fostering job skills and real-word experience that lead to sustainable employment. During her internship, CJ impressed her supervisors at Spectrum Health so much that she received an offer to be a second-shift Surgical Support Technician at Butterworth Hospital in the post-anesthesia care unit, or PACU, before she even completed the program. “My role is to keep patients coming out of surgery calm, comfortable and safe as the anesthesia wears off,” she said.

CJ credits the job with helping her grow both personally and professionally. “I love the family feel of the unit,” she shared. “It has helped me build my confidence, open up with people, and improve my communication with others. I feel important and proud of what I do. It is a fun environment that challenges me with a fast pace every day.”

If you ask her what some of the important qualities of a good surgical support technician are, CJ will tell you they need to have stamina, endurance, a strong work ethic, and confidence. The hospital will tell you that finding these traits in the job candidate pool isn’t as easy as you might think. Harder still, is finding candidates who have those traits and are willing to work second shift. CJ has been the solution to a long-standing need for the PACU: a reliable employee who works hard and gets the job done during second shift, a timeframe that has proven difficult to fill for the organization.

But while being a great employee is the most important factor, it’s not the only part of the equation. Because the job is during second shift, CJ also needs reliable transportation and can’t always count on family members or friends who are at work or school when she needs to get to her job. And that is where Hope Network comes back into the picture, taking her door to door for each of her shifts. CJ makes the arrangements each week by herself, calling Hope Network Transportation on Friday to set up her ride schedule for the following week. “Hope Network helps me be independent by getting me to and from work safely and on time,” CJ said. “Because they do that, I can keep helping people at the hospital.”

And the impact is not lost on the VanSkiver family. “CJ already had her cape, but Hope Network helps her fly,” said Jen Vanskiver, CJ’s mother. The impact goes beyond just one individual, family or even community to be a part of the greater good. “Hope Network is a workforce powerhouse, solving business problems by filling holes in the employment model, turning individuals into taxpaying members of society, and bringing them out of potential isolation. Hope Network levels the playing field, galvanizing society into a positive, inclusive direction – there is no other organization in the community that does this.”

Success stories like these don’t just happen overnight. It takes a village of passionate supporters, ambassadors and volunteers to raise awareness and funds for Hope Network services that mean so much to thousands of families across Michigan. “The services offered by Hope Network are so seamless and interwoven into the community that it can be easy to overlook. We had heard a little bit about Hope Network from other families in the special needs community, but didn’t fully connect the dots until CJ entered Project Search,” said Jen. “It has been a blessing to be in a community where an organization like Hope Network exists. The entire trajectory of our family has been changed by Hope Network. My husband, Tim and I, used to say that we were planning “retirement for three,” fearing our daughter may not achieve independence. But now look at her. She’s soaring. And we want to do everything we can to put a face on the value proposition of Hope Network, so that more people understand its impact, leverage what it offers, and give to support it.”

To learn more about the Hope Network Transportation services, click here.

To find out about how you can get involved as a Hope Network donor, advocate or volunteer, contact Erik Wolenberg at ewolenberg@hopenetwork.org.

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