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Forging a Path to Healing

Headshot of Regent University alumna Amanda Hurkmans in her graduation regalia.

Graduation is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It’s a time for students who’ve finally finished their academic journeys to look back on how far they’ve come and look ahead to the next chapter. For many, it’s a life-changing day of reflection and celebration that will be cherished for years to come.

Since 1980, Regent University graduates have proudly donned their cap and gown and waited patiently for their name to be called to receive the diploma documenting their amazing accomplishment while their family and friends proudly looked on.

But for some graduates, especially those living out of state, it’s not always easy to make it to the stage in Virginia Beach.

Amanda Hurkmans, from Georgia, fell into this category.   

With tight finances and challenges that make traveling more difficult, the School of Business and Leadership (SBL) MBA graduate didn’t think an in-person graduation would even be possible.

But Dr. Greg Stone, Regent’s SBL MBA Program Director, thought it was too important an opportunity to miss, especially seeing as Amanda would be receiving the SBL’s prestigious MBA Award of Excellence for her business plan – an award given to the graduate who comes up with the most outstanding business plan.

Dr. Stone embodied God’s love and exemplified the kind of servant leadership so deeply valued at a university designed to create the next generation of Christian leaders by providing the means for her to travel from Georgia to Regent’s Virginia Beach campus to make her SBL commissioning ceremony. 

Thanks to his selfless act, Amanda was able to proudly receive her award and diploma in person and meet the professor who made it all possible.

“I was not expecting it at all,” Amanda admitted. “I originally said no [to attending commissioning], but he was very persistent in trying to get me to change my mind. I was just one of two people to win an award for the MBA program.”

Upon receiving the call, Amanda was worried about whether it meant she wouldn’t be able to graduate. When she discovered she would instead be receiving an award, she felt relief and elation.

“It was crazy to see how these years of working towards this paid off. It’s been very rewarding [working through this business plan] and going through the MBA program. It was an affirmation that this is what God wants me to do, and that I can bring it to fruition,” she stated.

Regent University alumna Amanda Hurkmans with her husband; together they started a nonprofit with her MBA experience.

Amanda’s MBA concentration is in nonprofit management, and her award-winning business plan was born out of a partnership with her husband, John, who created a nonprofit designed to help veterans and first responders who struggle with service-related trauma, like PTSD, to get the help they wouldn’t otherwise get through the traditional channels alone.

John, who is a Navy veteran, dealt with a variety of his own challenges upon leaving the military and decided to create Big Bear’s Forge & Homestead to provide other veterans with a healthy outlet to process their trauma and heal from it.

“We hope to have a completely self-sufficient homestead run by veterans and first responders who are seeking counseling and therapeutic services,” John stated.

The couple’s plan is to obtain a piece of land to expand the operation. The Forge’s aim is to offer blacksmithing, bladesmithing, smelting, and casting, with a homesteading aspect centered around gardening and animal husbandry.

“We both come from families with mental illness in our backgrounds, and there’s so much behind this organization,” Amanda said.

“I grew up in the kind of church that told you, ‘If you’re feeling depressed, you’re not praying enough, and if you’re anxious you’re not trusting Jesus. I was always conflicted about that. I definitely grew up with the mentality that if you need a counselor, you must be crazy,” she added.

“It’s that stigma we’re trying to fight with our organization,” John noted.

“It’s about finding peace through the trauma and being able to get out of your head and work with your hands,” Amanda said, adding, “We see how [veterans] are treated. They’re not able to get the assistance they need.”

The high rate of veteran suicide has especially hit close to home for the Hurkmans, who have lost family members to the crisis.

“We as a society have been steeped in the trauma associated with military service and first responder service,” John said.

“I’ve done a lot of research on veterans and post-traumatic stress. A lot of the veterans won’t get help and are from a generation where they’ve just pushed those feelings away instead of processing them,” Amanda said.

“We do a great disservice to veterans. It’s very difficult for them to transition out of the military, and some are never able to. Their service is their sense of significance, and after it, they get swept under the rug,” John continued.

The Hurkmans hope to be able to get benefactors to sponsor the therapy of military veterans and first responders so they don’t have to worry about the costs and can heal and grow. They envision the Forge as a kind of community.

“God created humans to be together,” Amanda said.

“Being in a community with a handful of people allows you to stop thinking about all the things that are troubling you, and if you’re in the Forge, you’re alleviating some of the stressors in a community with others who’ve dealt with similar issues. That’s what we’re really trying to establish—a community,” John added.

Faith is another important aspect of the nonprofit.

“A large portion of what we’re doing is very spiritually based. A lot of veterans want a spiritual connection, but they haven’t been given it through the Christian church. We want to show people the truth of Christian morality and spirituality in a loving environment,” John explained.

“We don’t realize that our greatest weapon as Christians are the prayer warriors in our groups,” Amanda said, crediting Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen as a guidebook for reinforcing a community of likeminded believers.

“I’ve come to realize there are a lot of false beliefs that are developed throughout childhood and in our church culture. Here, we’re coming from a very loving area, where we’re letting Jesus show through our actions and our love. Jesus is the answer, but God gave us all these resources because we’re flawed. I think science and religion go hand in hand,” she continued.

“Jesus is a healer, a loving, understanding healer, and he is seeking your betterment. He is seeking to heal you of your afflictions,” John added.

Regent University alumna Amanda Hurkmans on campus in front of the graduation stage in Virginia Beach.

For Amanda, who had a broad background in marketing and graphic design and already earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Regent in 2016, the MBA program offered the perfect opportunity to put the plans into writing, develop connections, and sharpen her creative and analytical skills.

It was the Regent culture that made that choice especially worthwhile.

“I love the culture here. There have been a lot of trials in our personal lives these past few years. The birth of my second son had a lot of pressure around it; we had to be admitted to the hospital early for induction, and there was a lot of stress. Here at Regent, the professors really cared. There was one professor who actually called me and prayed on the phone with me. I wouldn’t be able to get that elsewhere,” Amanda recalled. 

“The love from Regent’s staff and professors was profound. Here, they really love you and care for you,” she continued. 

“For the MBA program, I appreciated that everything—every project, every assignment, every dialogue —was something designed to further your career. I loved how everything was interconnected. Every project builds on the last project. Here at Regent, they not only care about you, but they’re also trying to really prepare you for life. The professors here take an interest in you both personally and professionally, and they want to see you succeed,” she said.

Her advice to visionaries interested in pursuing an MBA and putting an idea into practice is as follows:

“There is no idea too small because in this program, every idea was viable. They give you the tools to develop it for success. There were a lot of times that I doubted myself, but the program provided me with an affirmation that helped me become more confident in this idea. [The program] really prepares you and gives you the tools you need for success after college.”

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