Joy Tanimura Winquist ’04

Words: Grace Kenyon ’22
Photos: Kevin Littrell

Joy Tanimura Winquist ’04

Honolulu, Hawai’i

Only a few years out of college and working as a math teacher at West Chicago High School, Joy Tanimura Winquist ’04 found herself in a situation she had never faced before. She was what you might call an unconventional teacher—her classroom tending toward chaos, favoring games instead of worksheets.

“I ended up becoming a place for a lot of kids to talk about hard things going on in their lives,” Winquist said. One Sunday, a student contacted her and shared that she had been sexually assaulted by another student. Without much training in how to handle these kinds of situations, Winquist fumbled her way through helping the girl talk to her parents and take the necessary next steps. At that moment, Winquist discovered another calling.

“I want to know people’s stories and walk with them through those things and be a reflection of love, care, acceptance, and kindness in the way that God’s been for me,” Winquist said.

Her desire to teach was what brought Winquist to Wheaton College from her home of Honolulu, Hawai’i. Although her eventual teaching career was short-lived, many other aspects of her Wheaton experience laid the foundation for the work she does now.

In particular, Winquist was drawn to Global Urban Perspectives, a summer ministry program at Wheaton that connected students to internships in urban environments. The shift from Hawai’i to Illinois had been somewhat of a culture shock, and she felt more at home among the culturally diverse group of students involved in the program. She spent the summer between her junior and senior years in Los Angeles, working at a local nonprofit and living at the income level of the people in that community (which meant sleeping in sleeping bags in a furniture-less house). She returned to Chicagoland grappling with the hardship she had witnessed.

After graduation, she stayed in Chicago for 12 years, earning a social work degree from the University of Chicago and working for various nonprofits. Her most formative experience was spent working as a residential therapist and later assistant director at LYDIA Home, a Christian nonprofit that provides residential therapy programs for kids in foster care. She was able to unapologetically tell the kids they were loved by God and watch them respond in praise during the nonprofit’s gospel choir performances.

“It was really amazing to hear these kids sing, praise Jesus together, and cling to the knowledge that God loves them,” Winquist said, reflecting on her experience working at LYDIA Home. “It was beautiful. I don’t think you can go there and not have your life changed.”

Eventually, Winquist, her husband, and their three adopted children moved back home to Honolulu. When the pandemic led to a shortage in mental health resources, she opened her own counseling office, specializing in clients with backgrounds of trauma and histories of sexual abuse. Winquist loves sitting and listening, knowing that her hope for her clients often goes deeper than what they dare to hope for themselves.

“God’s always pursuing us, right?” Winquist said. “God’s going to reveal himself to them in some way, shape, or form. So, I love to wait for those moments and hold out hope for that—for them.”