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Bethesda has something to sing about

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Bethesda, an MB-affiliated support agency for people with developmental disabilities, celebrates 75 years of ministry in 2012. A highlight of the Apr. 22 anniversary celebration was a performance by Momentum, a unique choir, an off-shoot of Bethesda. Their jazzy renditions of “This Little Light of Mine,” “Put a Little Love in your Heart,” and “Born this Way” were called polished, professional, and inspirational.

“People are born with a desire to contribute,” says Momentum’s founder and director Mendelt Hoekstra. “The people who make up Momentum are often seen as takers because they have special needs the community must meet. Momentum provides an opportunity to show the community they are givers.”

“There are lots of opportunities for people with developmental disabilities in the Niagara region, but few performance-based opportunities,” Hoekstra says. “Music has qualities that move people, and when used well, it moves people for good. When King Saul suffered, he called David to play his harp to lift Saul’s spirits (1 Samuel 16:23). David was the first music therapist.”

Hoekstra began work in music therapy after obtaining a BA in 1999. His dream for Momentum stirred after treating a woman he fondly calls a songbird, and then a man with incredible artistic talent. Both have developmental disabilities. His vision became a reality in 2007 when Bethesda received a government grant for $51,000 to start Momentum.

Momentum is magical

“To those working in the field of developmental disabilities, Momentum is amazing. To those not in the field, it is more than amazing; it is magical,” says Hoekstra. “The average person arrives at a performance to support the ministry and walks away inspired, astounded, and speechless.”

Denise Coleby, a volunteer and member of Momentum’s board of directors, appreciates Hoekstra’s ability to bring out the best in each member. Her time with the group is the highlight of her week as members continue to touch her heart with their emotion and desire to perform a song well.

“When a group of people follow a purposeful vision, amazing things happen. That’s Momentum’s story,” says Hoekstra. “This group believes in a goal that would have been laughed at six years ago. Yet now, they have been invited by the government to sing in the most important building in the country: in October 2012, they will sing in the House of Commons, invited by Rick Dykstra [MP for St. Catharines].”

A highlight of a past performance involved a technically difficult song containing an unexpected and powerful pause. Momentum nailed it. In that split second of perfect quiet, the audience gasped at their breathtaking precision.

One mother wrote, “Thank you for taking my daughter to a place where we as a family never even dreamed she could go.”

Yes, thank you, Momentum, for making Bethesda’s 75th year something to sing about. Thank you for your inspiration, your belief, and for showing the world that you belong at centre stage.

—Stacey Weeks

Mission statement:

To provide, in the Spirit of Christ, a continuum of holistic services that will enhance the quality of life for people who have a developmental disability.


• Bethesda was the first Mennonite mental health ministry in North America.

• Founders Henry and Maria (Unrau) Wiebe worked at Bethania, a Mennonite mental health hospital in Ukraine, as a social worker and nurse, respectively.

• The Wiebes took their first patient into their home in Stratford, Ont., in 1934, upon request of leaders from Kitchener (Ont.) MB Church. In these years, Mennonites suffering trauma from leaving Russia were in danger of deportation.

• In 1937, the Wiebes purchased a 75-acre property near Vineland, Ont., to expand their capacity to take in people with mental health challenges.

• In 1944, the Ontario Conference of MB Churches acquired ownership of Bethesda Home (previously supported by voluntary contributions and farm income). At this point, the cost per individual was $20/month, shouldered by the patient’s family or church. Failing both, the conference would cover the cost.

• In 1949, there were 22 patients, four practical nurses, an orderly, and one part-time registered nurse. The Canadian Conference of MB Churches took ownership and constructed a modern building with facilities for treating outpatients.

• The Wiebes resigned in 1951.

• In 1959, the home began to receive funding from the provincial government.

• The Mental Health Act of 1967 precipitated a shift in focus from mainly caring for patients with mental illness (according to a medical model) to serving adults with a mental disability (according to the developmental model).

• To fund expansion to a total of 96 beds, the farm was sold in the 1970s.

• Ownership was transferred back to the Ontario conference in 1983.

• Today, Bethesda supports approximately 2,300 adults and children with a developmental disability throughout Niagara, Hamilton, Brant, and Haldimand/Norfolk regions, with a staff of 500.

• To celebrate 75 years, Bethesda is holding a variety of celebration events throughout the year, including a dinner theatre, concert, picnic, and golf tournament. See www.bethesdaservices.com for a full listing.

• Momentum has been approached by the state government of New York to start a similar program there. The board of directors is taking the request under consideration.

• In September 2011, Momentum auditioned for the television show “Canada’s Got Talent.” The audition director told them they were the most inspiring group in Toronto.

• Learn more about Momentum (or donate) on their website momentumchoir.ca, Facebook page, or visit one of their concerts in the Niagara region.

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