The Millennials: A special life.

May 10, 2015

IMG_3230Editor’s Note: Sustaining a community and keeping it vibrant requires diversity on many levels, especially among age groups. An unintended movement the last few years has been the increased number of millennials who have taken a role in community and business leadership in Mason County. A millennial, also known as Generation Y, is defined as a person who was born from the early ‘80s to the 2000s.. This generation grew up in the digital age and often offers a unique and fresh perspective to leadership.

This is the 11th story in our series on the area’s millennials who are making an impact in our community.

Sponsored by All Access Care of Ludington. Located at 329 N. Jebavy Dr. in Ludington; 231-425-4544;

By Kate Krieger. MCP Correspondent.

LUDINGTON – Growing up with a brother with special needs, Tanya Gasaway, 37, and Niki Boerema, 32, never really thought anything of it. That’s the way it should be, they both explain. Their brother, Erik Boerema, 35, was born with Down syndrome, but just because he was born with a disability, it didn’t typecast him. It actually was just the opposite and a lot of that is due to Tanya, Niki and their parents Gary and Cindy Boerema.

Tanya, a 1995 graduate of Ludington High School and Niki, a 2000 graduate of LHS, both knew that they were interested in majoring in education, but they had different paths in mind in the beginning. Tanya graduated with a English degree and an emphasis in secondary education from Grand Valley State University.

“I didn’t want to major in special education,” she says. “It was my whole life. When Erik was born, I was obviously older, but nothing really changed, so it wasn’t really any different. I graduated in 2001 and came back and subbed and the funny thing was, I did most of my subbing with the Educational Service Center (ESD).”

After doing some subbing jobs and not finding the teaching job she wanted, Tanya worked a few different places including Roger Anderson’s law office. She remembered Roger encouraging her to do something more.

“I just wasn’t really happy,” Tanya says. “Roger said to me that I needed to go back and get certified.”

Working for one year with Community Mental Health as a children’s case manager, Tanya then took a long term special education substitute teaching job at Baldwin Public Schools. Her time there really sealed the deal on going back to Ferris State University to receive a master’s in curriculum and instruction.

“I was hired at Foster Elementary here in Ludington and made the decision to get my master’s,” she says. “Getting this master’s was a way for me to get my special education endorsement.”

Tanya kept saying that she was not happy and everything in her life kept gravitating towards a career in special education.

“I really thought, ‘why am I not doing this?’” She says. “I spent four years at Foster, working with third through fifth graders and I am just finishing up my first year at Lakeview, working with kindergarten through second graders. I wasn’t planning on moving to Lakeview, but I love it here.”

Niki, being the baby of the family says she never thought anything of Erik having Down syndrome because she never knew anything different. She says that could have been partially the reason she always knew she wanted to become a special education teacher.

Niki graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2005 with a degree in special education and she could teach cognitively impaired, emotionally impaired and then she could also teach general education kindergarten through fifth grade.

“When I graduated, the heavens kind of lined up for me,” she says. “I knew I wanted to come back. My whole family is here. The ESD doesn’t open up jobs much and I graduated in Spring 2005 and Bill White called me and I was hired in July 2005.”

Niki is finishing up her 10th year in the same classroom and she says there was one thing she was very thankful for before taking the job in the cognitively impaired classroom.

“Erik graduated in 2005, so he wasn’t ever in my classroom,” she says. “It would have been hard because I would have treated him like my brother and he would have treated me like his sister.”

One thing Niki did do to help Erik transition into the community after leaving school, she one night a week where Erik would come into her class to assist her in classroom jobs that needed to be done.

“He would come back that next year,” she says. “He still missed school and he would come in and I would give him some kind of job to do. It only happened one year though because he realized he was an adult now and he didn’t want to be at school. It was a great transition for him.”

Tanya and Niki both explained that they really believe that they can bring a real life perspective to the parents they work with because they have been in their shoes to a point having a brother who was born with a disability. They says they can really see the comfort their personal stories bring to the families and that their number one thing they tell each family is that they need to be their child’s advocate, otherwise they may not get it anywhere else.

“I can really give that family perspective,” Tanya says. “We know what it’s like. We’ve done it.”

“It’s comforting for parents,” Niki says. “It helps with parents that you can tell them how the whole transition piece works, too.”

With bringing that family perspective into the classroom, Tanya and Niki, both credit their parents with so much because even though Erik was confronted with certain hardships, Gary and Cindy never treated him any different and they advocated for him to be able to be like anyone else and do whatever he could.

“I never realized how different our family was,” Niki says. “Erik was always included in everything we did.”

“To see my parents advocate for Erik, I tell my parents you need to advocate for them,” Tanya says. “I’ve taken that learning experience and try to tell my students’ parents.”

Along with teaching and going above and beyond helping their students, the entire Boerema family is very involved in Area 24 Special Olympics. Even Tanya’s daughters, Bella and Maddie are very involved and don’t know any different.

“We have Erik over for Sunday night dinners at our house,” Tanya says. “The girls are so engrossed in it and they volunteer for a lot of things, they don’t see it as any different than any other family.”

Tanya and Niki both say that anyone who is interested in studying special education that they need to be flexible and have a sense of humor, but the most important thing is the celebrate even the smallest accomplishments because those my seem small to some, but huge for that certain student.

“For young teachers who are passionate, it can be very exciting,” Niki says. “It has just been so great that our parents care and have molded Erik into a successful contributing member of the community in whatever he is able to do. That’s what they did for him and we really carry that into our classrooms.