Stevenson’s spirit lives on within Seeds of Hope
Clark Dolch appreciates how difficult farming can be within the throes of a family medical crisis.
As a student at Iowa State University (ISU) in 2010, Dolch learned that his brother, Jared, also an ISU student, had been diagnosed with leukemia. Dolch saw first-hand the financial and mental stress a hardship can place on anyone’s family facing a similar situation.
“Me and my now wife, Molly, cleaned out his dorm room not knowing his fate, or if he would ever come back to school,” explained Dolch, an Adair County Farm Bureau member. “Three weeks from the end of the semester, and my brother went to (the University of Nebraska Medical Center) in Omaha rather than finishing his third semester of college.
His stay of 30 days included many high doses of chemotherapy. His mom took a leave of absence to help with care while a younger brother, a sophomore in high school, continued with his education.
“That put my dad in the middle of farm duties, caring for my youngest brother, supporting his son battling cancer and being an hour away from his son and wife,” Dolch said. “Fortunately, my story ends with my brother being in remission for 12 years now; however, not a day goes by that I don’t think about those 30 days of craziness and how it has shaped my life.”
So when Dolch was selected for the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Leadership Award in 2022, it came as no surprise that he donated his $2,000 winnings toward a non-profit organization, the Seeds of Hope Foundation founded by Justine (Stevenson) Brink, which assists farm families with medical and financial hurdles. The foundation honors her late husband, Chasen, who died in 2018 at the age of 31.
“Having the support of family and friends was awesome during this time; however, none of them had experienced something like this before,” Dolch said. “That is where the Seeds of Hope and Justine have an advantage when it comes to assisting families.
“She has been there and truly understands the struggles and milestones that each cancer patient goes through.”
Marshall County Farm Bureau member Matthew Burt took note of Dolch’s donation and matched the effort a year later as a 2023 recipient of the Young Farm Leadership Award, donating his $2,000 prize to Seeds of Hope. Like Dolch, he said the foundation is special.
“Seeds of Hope’s mission is to help farm families in times of great need, when a family member is diagnosed with an illness or there is a tragedy,” Burt said. “I wanted to be able to help these families because I know these issues are very hard on family farmers.”
Finding SEEDS OF HOPE
Dolch and Burt met Chasen and Justine Stevenson while attending Iowa State University and interacted again through Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer program.
The Stevensons were studying in the College of Agriculture. After they married, started raising a family and farming together, Chasen was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer.
“We were told there was no cure and he had roughly nine months to live,” Justine explained. “Hearing that news was such a blow to our young family that our close family and friends planned a benefit for Chasen to raise money to explore alternative treatment options.
“It was called the Seeds of Hope benefit with our roots planted in agriculture and the quick approach of the spring season.”
The turnout for the event was overwhelming, she said, and the support from the community was humbling.
“The money raised allowed us to travel out of the country for cutting-edge treatment not offered here in the states,” Justine said.
It was heartbreaking when Chasen passed away, but Justine said they had discussed a few days before how he wanted his legacy to live on.
“We talked through the idea of using remaining funds from the benefit to help other young farm families diagnosed with long-term illnesses,” she said, “paying back the blessings that were provided to our family.”
Pictured above: Nolan enjoys spending time on the farm. Their community offered financial and spiritual support after Nolan and Adam Brink were involved in a UTV accident last spring. PHOTO / CONRAD SCHMIDT
Over the past five years, Seeds of Hope has assisted more than 25 young farm families who have had a family member diagnosed with a long-term illness. The contribution size has more than tripled to each family since the start of the foundation, the result of consistent donors, strong partnerships and grassroots foundation growth.
Support from the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Advisory Committee has helped spread the word about the foundation and raise funds through selling merchandise and raffle tickets.
“Chasen was an active member of the Marion County Farm Bureau and at the state level as well,” Justine said. “We leaned heavily on these friends during Chasen’s cancer journey.”
Chasen’s spirit lives on in the help delivered by the foundation. Consider Justine’s nanny, who had learned that her father had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “Immediately we sent a sponsorship package to her family without her knowing,” Justine said. “The day after the package arrived when she showed up at our house to watch Nolan, we shared some tears, a prayer and a strong embrace.
“Watching our donors’ dollars come to work in the community that we live in was extremely humbling.”
This fall, a young farmer was severely burned in a farming accident, leaving his wife and two young children at home. The foundation assembled a sponsorship package to assist the family as he recovered from his injury.
“We pray that our contribution eases their burden,” Justine said.
And just this past spring, Justine, son Nolan and husband Adam Brink were involved in a UTV accident injuring Nolan, who has undergone several surgeries and extended wound care. Once again, the community offered financial and spiritual support and help on the home front.
“The outpouring of love was overwhelming, but when tragedy strikes our small Christian communities, it humbles me how eager our friends and neighbors gather, rally and pray,” she said.
Pictured above: Justine Brink. Photo by Conrad Schmidt
The contribution process is simple. Anyone seeking assistance, or wishing to donate, can reach out to the organization via email at email@example.com.
Any young farm family that has been diagnosed with a long-term illness or is facing hardship due to a medical condition can qualify for financial support, including the mom, dad or children of a family directly involved in production agriculture.
“Over time I have learned that this is God’s grace and mercy coming to life through our community,” Justine said. “That is the goal of the foundation, to be the work of his hands.”
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