Katie Brower

Katie and her husband Ben Brower

Katie Browers

For the Timmermans, service-learning is a family affair. Steve worked for the Calvin College KIDS program in the late seventies and returned as interim director of the Service-Learning Center in 2001-2002. When his oldest daughter, Katie Timmermans Brower, started Calvin the following autumn, she knew she wanted to connect with the S-LC. “He just had wonderful things to say about the Service-Learning Center,” she says. “I thought, ‘these are things that I care about, about serving and about the Grand Rapids community, and potentially a place where I can find community as well, internally.’ And all of those things turned out to be true…very much a place where I found community, but also developed professionally and in terms of my sense of calling… it was a rich environment of thinking and supporting and listening and asking hard questions.”

Many of Katie’s closest friendships developed in her years as a student coordinator, as the staff practiced civic engagement, critical thinking, and experiential education together. The freedom of the office proved particularly significant. “Jeff and Lori [the director and associate director] at that time really gave us the opportunity to be creative and innovative and develop new things…That kind of outlook on how can we make things better, and how can we create something that even better suits who we work with, or whatever—that has been something that I take with me, and something that I learned at the Service-Learning Center.”

Creative thinking led Katie to a number of post-college ventures. She pursued special education for a year, working as a paraprofessional in an autistic classroom. Next, she returned to Grand Rapids to explore the possibility of opening a coffee shop, living in community with another S-LC alumnus and friends while she worked as a barista and took business classes. When the markets crashed and she realized that she did not want to own a café, “I was running out of things that I thought that I had wanted to do, but then I heard about a job opening at a place called, at that time, VSA, or Very Special Arts, which is a non-profit that connects people with disabilities to art. So I applied for a position as program coordinator there.”

Since coming on to the staff as a program coordinator, Katie has served as program director, and most recently as interim executive director of what is now called Artists Creating Together (ACT), serving 8500 children, youth and adults each year through community- and school-based programming. ACT works in all different art forms, from photography to recycled art to dance, show choir, theater and puppetry, continually expanding their program offerings to fit needs in the community and the interests of their participants.

“Whenever I tell the story about what prepared me for this, I talk a lot about the Service-Learning Center, because a lot of my job, especially as program director, was really setting up programs and creating community collaborations and helping volunteers get acclimated to what we do, and training interns and those sorts of things, and all of those things I learned at the Service-Learning Center,” Katie says. “And, working with people with disabilities is something that I’ve always loved to do, and I’ve always been passionate and a lover of art as well. So I definitely felt God’s hand in that whole process, and was very in awe of how God had prepared me and led me to this.”

Katie’s experiences of service and her faith development have often intertwined, and she says her time on staff at the Service-Learning Center played a particular role. “I think the connection was very strong. The Service-Learning Center gave me a place to ask questions. It gave me fellow Christians to dialogue with; it helped me to make sense of the vertical and horizontals of being a Christian,” she says. She developed a very communal view of what it means to be a follower of Christ—“somebody who loves well, and somebody who tries to become who God meant them to be, and also tries to enable that in others.” And that’s exactly what Katie is doing, right where she is now.

BY KATIE VAN ZANEN