It was time! Time to do something.
Hank Grimsland of Martinsburg believes we all have the hands of Christ to reach out to those in need, and the love of God to bring hope to the hopeless. He is a man who cannot sit idly by – a man who wholeheartedly believes we need to stop ignoring the voice of the Holy Spirit, calling us to strengthen our faith and make a difference.
He was born in Norway and baptized Lutheran. In 1955 his father, a merchant seaman, had to leave the country to find work in the United States, because the Scandinavian economy was so bad. The family decided it was best to move to a Norwegian community in Brooklyn in 1957.
He met Kate when he was living in New Paltz, NY. She was a cradle Catholic, but had stopped going to Mass as a young adult.
Hank was drawn to the Catholic faith after the couple started dating and specifically when he had enrolled in Bible courses that looked at the first 1500 years of Christianity.
“It was all right there,” he said. “The Church Jesus created is documented in history. The facts defend the faith. The Liturgy and the Sacraments celebrate Christ and His teachings. I truly wanted to receive Christ – Body and Blood – in the Blessed Sacrament. It was like lightbulbs turned on for me.
“I have always been pro-life, but I could see my denomination tolerating and even defending abortion… that was the last straw,” he said. In February of 1998, he contacted the St. Joseph Parish in New Paltz, and began taking RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes with Kate at his side, and he entered the Church at the Easter Vigil in 1999.
“I was so eager to become part of the Church that Jesus and the Apostles began for us,” he said. “It was a test of my patience and determination really. I didn’t want to have to wait so long, but then I thought, ‘This is smart. Nothing good or of great importance and value is just given to you, you have to wait, prepare, and then nurture it.’”
In 2001, he became the Catholic Campus Minister at State University in New Paltz. In that role he became even more in touch with his faith fully alive, evangelizing others through RCIA and also wanting to make a difference on a grand scale. He developed a friendship with Marina and Rafael Delgado, a family living in New York from the Dominican Republic, and learned about the great needs in the country – poverty, the need for neighborhood chapels, and lack of quality education for children.
“That’s when the Holy Spirit moved me to do something and not just sit idly by,” he said. “In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined the difference that we would make.”
In 2007, with the help of the Delgados and a parish in the DR the mission trips with university students began. Each year for 7-10 days, the mission teams have been working with the Salesians of Don Bosco in the rural areas of the Dominican Republic. The mission trip projects have included assistance with the construction of three chapels, a number of new or renovated houses and school renovation. Additionally, the mission teams have held faith and fun events for the children in the communities.
The chapels are a great benefit of the entire community, as in the St. Maria Goretti Chapel in Los Calabozos, Dominican Republic constructed in 2017-2018. In addition to being a place of worship and religious education, the chapel is also used as an elementary school.
It was during these mission trips, when children from the neighborhoods would flock to the missionary group to watch and interact.
“We looked forward to them coming around,” he said. “These little relationships we formed became the tangible and emotional reason we would go back each year.”
The mission team and the Grimslands recognized that these kids were not going to school. The main reason they were given was due to poverty, accessibility, and safety reasons.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about their situations, but the need was so overwhelming what was I to do?”
He said he kept thinking about a quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
In 2010, Kate and Hank decided they would personally sponsor the education of one child – to attend a Salesian missionary school in the DR. The Delgados introduced them to Haitian immigrant child in the DR, Josianne Baptiste.
“This was one of the greatest and most rewarding things we ever did,” he said. Each year the Grimslands made sure Josianne had what she needed to attend school. The families kept in touch, visiting in the DR each year. Today Josianne is a school psychologist and a great role model for children who are just like her.
In 2013, the Grimslands officially founded the non-profit St. John Bosco Children’s Fund, “helping to break the cycle of poverty, one child at a time,” and opening the door for others to have the opportunity to sponsor children like Josianne.
The organization today not only helps children in the DR, but also Haiti.
“Poverty is one of the major factors that will determine whether a child in the Dominican Republic and Haiti will finish his/her education,” he noted.
The SJBCF works in partnership with Catholic educational institutions whose goal it is to provide quality education while developing the concept of the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. The cost for sponsoring a student to attend school for one year is $300 which covers tuition, uniforms, school supplies, field trips, and meals.
The Grimslands are happy to share that SJBCF donors and sponsors are providing educational support for 51 students: 17 that are in grades K – 12 in the Dominican Republic; 21 students in Haiti; and 13 college students.
Hank retired from his job as campus minister in 2021, and the couple moved to Martinsburg in 2022 to be closer to their adult children Ryan, Erik, Kevin, and Kristen and their families.
Keeping the SJBCF going is Hank’s mission. He continues to visit the DR, monitoring the success of SJBCF. He noted that unfortunately the situation in Haiti remains too dangerous to visit the sponsored students there.
“It truly is the Holy Spirit working through me,” he said. “I could not do what we do if I wasn’t strengthened by the Blessed Sacrament and the Mass.
“Also, just as we learned from the life of St. Teresa of Calcutta, who gave up everything to care for those who had no hope, we can make a difference like Christ if we just decide to focus and act – not just have good intentions – on helping even just one child,” he said.