Hometown Heroes 2014 Profiles: Tackling Problems of All Sizes: Kate Cragwall

This week we continue our series of blog posts highlighting the awards recipients for the 2014 Hometown Heroes Celebration hosted by the American Red Cross of West Michigan. Each year the American Red Cross celebrates the community heroes who inspire us through their commitment to service and their recognition of the humanity of their neighbors down the street, across the country, and around the world. The event will be held on Thursday, May 1 from 6:00PM-10:00PM at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. For ticket information please visit our Hometown Heroes event page.

ImageThe American Red Cross of West Michigan is excited to honor Kate Cragwall with the Dr. Charles Drew Health Advocate Award for her leadership and commitment in the field of mental health.

Throughout her career, Kate has exemplified the selfless dedication to the health and wellbeing of others the Health Advocate Award embodies. For more than 40 years, Kate has served her community as a clinical social worker, trainer, consultant, and volunteer.

Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950) was a pioneer in the field of blood transfusion. His research led to improved techniques for storing blood and creating centralized blood banks. Eventually, out of his work came the American Red Cross Blood Bank. Each year, the American Red Cross of West Michigan honors the pioneering work of Dr. Drew to the Red Cross by presenting the Dr. Charles Drew Health Advocate Award to individuals who have dedicated their lives to the health and wellbeing of the community.

This year is the first time the Dr. Charles Drew Health Advocate Award has been given to someone in the mental health field. In her career, Kate has focused on being an agent of change—both in the personal lives of clients and in the larger picture of mental healthcare. Kate likes to talk about how she switches back-and-forth between the two ‘levels’ of mental health work—the “macro” and “micro”. At the “micro” level, for decades Kate, in clinical practice, has helped individuals and families from all walks of life.

“I just felt like it wasn’t enough to just do things at an individual level,” she added.“While that was important, you weren’t dealing with some of the systemic problems”.

Indeed at the “macro” level, Kate has been an influential member of a multitude of organizations and societies in West Michigan. She has served on numerous volunteer boards including Spectrum Health, Heart of West Michigan United Way, Michigan Multiple Sclerosis Society, and National Voluntary Hospitals of America Foundation She has presented widely on the behavioral treatment and management of stress disorders, Multiple Sclerosis, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, and Dissociative Disorders. She has been a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers, a Board-Certified diplomat in Clinical Social Work, a Clinical Member of both the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the International Society for the Study of Dissociation. She has served as a delegate to the National Assembly of the National Association of Social Workers.

Join the American Red Cross of West Michigan at our annual Hometown Heroes Celebration on May 1 at DeVos Place as we recognize Kate for her accomplishments!

Hometown Heroes 2014 Profiles: Investing in Our Community: The Right Place

This week we continue our series of blog posts highlighting the awards recipients for the 2014 Hometown Heroes Celebration hosted by the American Red Cross of West Michigan. Each year the American Red Cross celebrates the community heroes who inspire us through their commitment to service and their recognition of the humanity of their neighbors down the street, across the country, and around the world. The event will be held on Thursday, May 1 from 6:00PM-10:00PM at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. For ticket information please visit our Hometown Heroes event page.

Story by Marjorie Steele


In February of 1917, Kent County resident Mrs. Caroline Campbell received a telegram instructing her to establish a local chapter of the American Red Cross. That same month, Caroline assembled the first meeting of the American Red Cross of Kent County, and by July of that same year, the chapter had amassed over 37,000 contributing members.


Each year, the American Red Cross West Michigan Region recognizes one individual or organization with a Community Impact Award that carries on Caroline Campbell’s legacy of affecting extraordinary positive change in the community. This year, the economic development non-profit the Right Place is being highlighted for its pioneering work in West Michigan’s economy, and for the measurable and positive change it has brought about in the lives of people living here.


The aptly named “Right Place”has served West Michigan for nearly thirty years as a non-profit economic developer. In that time, the Right Place has assisted thousands of local companies, has affected the investment of over $3 billion in capital and has spurred the creation of over 40,000 jobs. In 2013 alone, this powerhouse nonprofit worked with nearly 1,700 companies, supported $102 million in new investment and helped create or retain over 2,500 jobs.



Birgit Klohs has been the President and CEO of The Right Place since 1987

The Right Place has been led by President and CEO Birgit Klohs since 1987, just two years after its founding. Having worked in economic development in West Michigan for nearly thirty years, Birgit’s dedication to the region’s growth has spurred the Right Place to keep our local economy thriving, through prosperity and recession.


To learn more about this organization, we dug deeper into the organization’s mission and values with VP Tim Mroz.


How would you describe the Right Place’s vision for West Michigan?

The Right Place, and our board of directors, share a common vision for creating long-term, sustainable economic growth here in West Michigan. We want this to be a region where freedom and independence can be gained through quality employment opportunities.


Can you give a few specific examples of our communities’growth over the past thirty years?

One look at downtown Grand Rapids, and you get a sense for the tremendous economic progress West Michigan has made over the last three decades. Our businesses have grown and diversified, our quality of life has improved, and our ability to work together in a private-public collaborative spirit has strengthened.


What are a few examples the Right Place’s programs and initiatives which have led to positive change here in West Michigan?

Over the past few years, the Right Place has led an effort to establish a 13-country economic development collaborative in West Michigan. This is the first time in our region’s history that a region this large has been able to come together under the common vision of spurring economic growth throughout all our counties – not just in our urban hubs.


What did the Right Place do in 2013 which has had the biggest impact?

One of our largest and more recent projects is a good example of the impact economic development can have on a community. That work was successfully retaining Spartan Stores, which are now SpartanNash. When we first heard about Spartan’s plans to merge with Nash Finch, we knew it would mean a lot of change for Spartan Stores in West Michigan. At the time, we weren’t sure whether that change would be good or bad, we simply knew something big was on the horizon.


We began to meet with the Spartan executive team, and we learned a few important things: 1) as a publicly traded company, the deal was by no means a “slam dunk”, and 2) our competitor would be Minneapolis, a bigger city with arguably more resources and assets.


We wasted no time putting together a team of local and state resources, the governor’s office, workforce development support, and everything else we could possibly do to assemble the most competitive business incentive and support package possible.


The results were an astounding win for West Michigan. Today, we’re proud that 620 jobs are still here in the region, and 372 new jobs will be coming to our community over the next three years.

Everyday Ticket, Extraordinary Value: Leonard’s Story

April 6-12 is National Volunteer Week. This special week is another opportunity to recognize the extraordinary service and dedication of the nearly 400,000 volunteers who support the American Red Cross. This week on our blog, we will feature stories of the amazing work being done by Red Cross volunteers here in West Michigan.


Sometimes the life-changing work of the American Red Cross can be as simple as a plane ticket. Leonard Garyson, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a 19-year-old U.S. Army service member stationed in Mannheim, Germany, when he found out his uncle had passed away.


Leonard Garyson (front) was stationed in Mannheim, Germany in 1972

It was 1972 and Leonard had been in the military for less than a year, sent to Germany to transport supplies for the Army. His monthly stipend wasn’t enough to cover a ticket home and no one could lend him the money—that’s when the American Red Cross stepped in to help. They paid for Garyson’s ticket home to be with his family.

“It’s not easy to get home when you’re 1,800 miles away from home, and you’re 19 years old,” said Garyson. “Without the Red Cross, I know I wouldn’t have come home.”

Leonard’s uncle held a special place in his life, and he knew he had to attend the funeral.

“My uncle was like a dad to me,” he added. “That would have been a big part of my life missing if I hadn’t come home.”

The plane ticket was Leonard’s only interaction with the Red Cross during his time in the military, but the gesture’s value did not wane over the years. He decided then, in 1972, that when he had spare time, it would be given to the American Red Cross.

More than 30 years later, in 2004, Leonard began volunteering at the Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids.

“Joining the Red Cross—I was just grateful to give back,” he said.

Today, Leonard is a familiar face at the Greater Grand Rapids chapter and serves as the Disaster Services Program Administrator for Kent, Barry, Montcalm and Ionia Counties. He says one of his favorite parts about volunteering with the Red Cross is that anyone can do it.

“Some organizations require yoImageu to be a specialist to volunteer, whereas with the Red Cross you can be an everyday individual.”

Garyson certainly knows how the “everyday” can sometimes be special. It was a seemingly everyday plane ticket paid for by the Red Cross 32 years ago that he’ll always remember.

“I couldn’t pay that back. It was priceless to me… I still carry that with me today.”

To learn about Red Cross volunteer opportunities in your area, visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

Hometown Heroes 2014 Profiles: The Beauty of Service: Shelly Loose

This week we continue our series of blog posts highlighting the awards recipients for the 2014 Hometown Heroes Celebration hosted by the American Red Cross of West Michigan. Each year the American Red Cross celebrates the community heroes who inspire us through their commitment to service and their recognition of the humanity of their neighbors down the street, across the country, and around the world. The event will be held on Thursday, May 1 from 6:00PM-10:00PM at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. For ticket information please visit our Hometown Heroes event page.

Story by Gwen Vryhof Bultema


6 Things You Should Know About Shelly Loose, Miss Wheelchair Michigan

At this year’s Hometown Heroes Celebration, the American Red Cross of West Michigan will honor Shelly Loose, president of Miss Wheelchair America, with the Mabel Boardman Spirit of Volunteerism Award for her outstanding volunteer efforts. Below are 6 things you should know about Shelly, before she accepts her award on Thursday, May 1:


Shelly Loose with her husband Ken


1)      She is a musician and a teacher. Shelly has always been passionate about music and its ability to move and inspire people. Shelly pursued her undergraduate degree in music education and her Masters in the Art of Teaching at Aquinas College.

2)      She is an advocate. Shelly lost her ability to walk following a car accident. She was crowned Miss Wheelchair Michigan in 2007 and spent the next year speaking to young children about disabilities, in an effort to break barriers that so often limit individuals with varying abilities.

3)      She is a volunteer. Shelly is currently the president of Miss Wheelchair America. She spends much of her time encouraging women with disabilities – from across the nation – to be assertive, to think big, and to pursue their dreams.

4)      She is a wife. Shelly met her husband, Ken, at Mary Free Bed, when they were both rehabilitation patients. They were married on the Regis and Kathie Lee show and sent to the Cayman Islands for their honeymoon. Shelly and Ken are both in wheelchairs, but have learned to take care of one another in a remarkable way.

5)      She is a mother. Shelly and Ken have a combined three children: Angela, Benjamin, and Katherine. Katherine is the youngest and, like her mother, spends a lot of time her time volunteering (must be in the genes). Katherine is passionate about theater and can often be found at the Civic Theater in Grand Rapids.

6)      She is a woman of faith. Shelly is a member of Frontline Bible Church in Byron Center. Her faith is central to who she is and how she spends her time. She has always known that God would use her to make a difference.

Learn more about Shelly and her work on May 1 at our Hometown Heroes Celebration!


Hometown Heroes 2014 Profiles: From Military Hero to Hometown Hero: John & Nancy Colburn

This week we are starting a new series of blog posts highlighting the awards recipients for the 2014 Hometown Heroes Celebration put on by the American Red Cross of West Michigan. Each year the American Red Cross celebrates the community heroes who inspire us through their commitment to service and their recognition of the humanity of their neighbors down the street, across the country, and around the world. The event will be held on Thursday, May 1 from 6:00PM-10:00PM at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. For ticket information please visit our Hometown Heroes event page.

Story by Heather Goodale

ImageThis year for our Hometown Heroes Celebration, we’re honored to present retired Army LTC John Colburn and his wife, Nancy, with the General George Marshall Patriot Award for their amazing contributions to the Red Cross and the military community. The Patriot Award is given to individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in service to the United States and our country’s men and women in uniform.

As a military veteran, I know how valuable the services the Red Cross provides to the military are – I’ve taken the calls for Red Cross messages, delivered news to soldiers, and coordinated with the Red Cross to help get soldiers home for joyous actions such as the birth of a child, and heart breaking situations such as a loved one’s funeral.

As a LTC in the Army, John dealt a lot with the Red Cross in his role and saw the impact the Red Cross had on soldiers. He started volunteering his time in the Kalamazoo area shortly after retiring and, 19 years later, he is still active with both the Red Cross and the military.

LTC Colburn

LTC. John Colburn and his wife, Nancy, are the 2014 recipients of the General George Marshall Patriot Award

As  case worker and station manager, John has traveled to Washington, D.C.; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Hood, Texas; Alaska; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; Fort Irwin, California; London, England; Germany; Japan; Italy; and countless other locations.

He spends months apart from his wife Nancy, also a Red Cross volunteer; 2 years ago, they were both home in Michigan for Christmas for the first time in 10 years.

Nancy Colburn started volunteering with the Red Cross as an assistant station manager and station manager when John was the station manager at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The assistant station manager and station manager from Fort Irwin, California, were both deployed to Iraq and the Red Cross asked John to take over at Fort Irwin on very short notice, but that would leave Nellis very short handed – so Nancy applied for his position and started her Red Cross career.

The Colburns spend their off time traveling the world and gaining new experiences, but always return home to Michigan for a period before setting off on the next Red Cross adventure that will inevitably separate them while also bringing them closer to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines that they serve.

When John was in Italy, Nancy volunteered to serve in Iraq while it was still designated as a combat zone. For Red Cross volunteers, deployments are not required but Nancy felt this was something she needed to do to help people, teach people, and interact with military service members in need on a daily basis.

John and Nancy still joke about how his record number of cases in a non-combat zone is 21 in a month, while Nancy’s record number of cases is 21 in a DAY from her time in Iraq. John calls his time with the Red Cross a “pretty marvelous” experience and knows that volunteers are so important to the organization. We really couldn’t do it without dedicated volunteers like John and Nancy Colburn!

A Red Cross Day at the Museum


Merlin, our Red Cross therapy dogs, makes new friends at the Museum

Story by Marjorie Steele

This past Saturday, March 8th, American Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum partnered up to create a fun, engaging opportunity for local kids and their parents to learn more about disaster preparedness.

Red Cross volunteers Brandon Baird and Patricia Carnevale brought in an Emergency Response Vehicle and disaster therapy dogs, Merlin and Piper, to the Grand Rapids Children Museum during its busiest day of the week.


Families had the opportunity to win 4 tickets to the upcoming Wizard of Oz show through Broadway Grand Rapids

Coloring books, Red Cross Mickey Mouse stuffed animals and other informational resources for parents were available, and parents had the opportunity to enter to win a 4 pack of tickets to Wizard of Oz, which is touring through Broadway Grand Rapids at DeVos Performance Hall this April.

Children and parents of all ages had the opportunity to tour the inside of Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle and learn about how the Red Cross provides critical canteening: water and food response to first aid workers and victims of natural disasters such as fires and floods.

With high flooding expected in West Michigan with the coming spring thaw, it was the perfect opportunity for families to learn how they can be prepared for natural disasters and how the Red Cross works to alleviate suffering here in our local counties.


Red Cross volunteer Brandon Baird, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, shows children the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV)

In the ERV, kids could inspect supplies and try on a real firefighter’s uniform. As they toured the vehicle, emergency response volunteer Brandon taught kids about fire safety in the home, what to do in the event of a fire and how to recognize firefighters when they arrive to help.

Therapy dogs, Piper and Merlin, welcomed the affection of kids of all ages as they passed by the Red Cross booth.

Our thanks to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum for their collaboration with American Red Cross, and to all the families who came out to participate in Red Cross day at the museum!

50,000 Miles and Counting- Dave’s Story


Dave Kendall has volunteered in the senior transportation department for over 13 years

David Kendall has always loved meeting new people. He spent several decades in the Muskegon area using his people skills to help others in the insurance industry. After he retired from his career in insurance, a friend suggested he use his love of people in a new avenue—volunteering with the Red Cross of Muskegon in the senior transportation department.

“A good friend of mine was driving senior transit when I retired…he said ‘Dave you ought to do this,’” recalled Kendall. “Well, I’m a people person so I said ‘Yeah, that sounds fun.’”

Prior to retiring, Kendall had volunteered occasionally with the Red Cross by transporting blood, but this was his first experience in driving clients. In 2000, he began driving seniors on Fridays for several hours—and has been volunteering every Friday since.

“Over the 13 plus years (in senior transportation), I driven over 50,000 miles just around Muskegon—as many drivers have,” he adds, quick to note that he is just one on a team of many dedicated individuals.

The senior transportation services for the Red Cross of Muskegon began in 1986 when the area’s Agency on Aging approached the Red Cross for help. The area’s seniors were having difficulty getting to their medical appointments since many could not drive themselves. The agency asked the Red Cross if they would consider creating a transportation service to help those seniors who had no reliable means of transit.

Since its inception in 1986, the senior transportation service in Muskegon has grown to nearly 100 volunteers giving seniors about 20,000 rides last year alone. Kendall says the department has between 45-55 riders a day. Part of the joy of being a part of the senior transportation services, he says, is the enthusiasm and commitment of his fellow volunteers.

“The drivers look forward to driving, they really do. They’re very dedicated people.”

The group’s dedication was on display last Christmas when ice storms and frigid temperatures brought West Michigan to a halt. The thick layer of ice covering the roads meant many of the medical facilities were closed, and the Red Cross had to cancel most of its transportation appointments. However, for the handful of seniors with dialysis and cancer treatment appointments, rescheduling was not an option.

David Kendall and his fellow volunteers were there to help. Despite the dangerous conditions, he was able to transport ten seniors to these vital treatments.

“That particular day I drove 110 miles…The (seniors) were all very appreciative, as they all are. They’re wonderful people.”

For David Kendall and volunteers like him, the gratitude of those they help is contagious. The spirit of their work, and of the Red Cross, is, perhaps, best left to Kendall to describe:

“You can’t do this (work) and not enjoy helping people…I’m just very proud to be a part of it… If you really want to give time to help other people, then I would sure recommend the Red Cross.”

Giving and Receiving

Story by Anne Wheeler


Dan and Barb Poel (pictured) have been Red Cross volunteers for over nine years

Barb and Don Poel of Whitehall, Michigan, enjoyed a pleasant visit to see family in warm Arizona, last year, from October through the New Year.  They’ve made the trek by car many times but didn’t anticipate it taking more than a week to drive back to Michigan.

“We left our children and grandchildren on Friday, January 3 heading back to the Midwest,” recalls Barb.  “We can usually make the return trip home in about four days.”  But with snow and ice hitting the country’s mid-section, the Poels, both volunteers for the Muskegon chapter, found them seeking comfort in a Red Cross shelter.

“I’ve never seen so many truckers in the ditches and parked at truck stops as we ascended on Effingham, IL, Monday afternoon,” shares Barb.  “With traffic at a stale mate, all the motels in the area were full and travelling farther wasn’t an option. Staff at the local Comfort Inn advised us to head to the Red Cross shelter.”

“How ironic we thought,” Barb said.  “I’m a nine-year volunteer at the Red Cross driving seniors to medical appointments and Don drives blood to area hospitals, and we weren’t able to continue our trip and had to stay at a Red Cross shelter set up at the local recreation center.”

“We talked with the shelter managers as they prepared for nearly 200 people to stay the night,” tells Don.  “It was a well-run shelter with plenty of food and water. We arrived (at) about 6 p.m. and there was a steady stream of folks arriving all through the night.” 

“After our night’s stay, we started our journey back to Michigan only to make it as far as the local Hampton Inn where we got the last room available on Tuesday,” tells Barb.  “Wednesday morning we traveled 40 miles going 25 mph with terrible conditions.  We knew we weren’t getting home that day either.”

Eventually, the Poels made it home to Whitehall, appreciative of receiving Red Cross services they were used to providing. 

To become a Red Cross volunteer, like the Poels, visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

To support Red Cross shelters and other relief efforts, donate today at redcross.org.

Elementary School Chooses a Special Valentine

ImageWhile most grade schoolers are preparing to send a Valentine to their close friends or secret crush, the kids at Central Elementary School in Grandville, Michigan, are making cards for a group far removed from a Midwestern classroom.

For Valentine’s Day, students at the elementary school partnered with their local Red Cross to send cards to an Army National Guard unit stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The project was organized by the school’s student council.

“The idea came about almost a year ago,” said Laurie Lowry, staff advisor to the student council. “The council said ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we sent Valentines to our troops?’ Unfortunately, it was (then) too late.”

The student council put the idea on the schedule for the following year, and Lowry began searching for an organization that could help send their cards overseas. That’s when she called the American Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids. Lowry spoke with the region’s Service to the Armed Forces director, Sarah Day, who helped Lowry identify a recently deployed Michigan Army National Guard unit in Afghanistan.

“One of the things I really enjoyed…was being able to partner with the Red Cross because it made the process very easy,” said Lowry. “What we all need is that link to make (our ideas) happen, and the Red Cross can be that for so many others.”

The National Guard Unit receiving the cards is based out of Jackson, Michigan. It turns out one of the unit’s soldiers is a graduate of Grandville High School. She had seen several weeks earlier on Facebook that the elementary school was sending cards to troops in Afghanistan but had no idea they were being sent to her military unit.

Students from all grades at the elementary school were able to participate in the project, and, in the end, a total of 118 cards were to send to the unit. The box was also filled with assorted candies, donated by the Grand Valley Armory’s Family Assistance Program in Wyoming, MI

 “This was really a first for Valentine’s Day and a fresh idea from the students,” added Lowry. “We’re very proud of our kids.”

From all of us at the Red Cross, we’re proud of them as well. 

Lifting a Soldier’s Spirit Overseas

The following is written by Brenton Holbrook, a Grand Rapids, MI native stationed at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, Africa:


When I was first assigned to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Africa with my mobile surgical team, I began looking for something to occupy my time since my work schedule was very different from other personnel on base.

When I came across the ARC(American Red Cross) Office I met the Station Manager there named Mary. She gave me the scoop about what the Red Cross offered there, and she informed me of a First Aid/CPR/AED Instructor Course after I told her what my job was in the Navy, which was a Hospital Corpsman. I instantly signed up for the class, and thus began what turned out to be 57 total volunteer hours at the ARC office prior to my team moving recently.

During some of these hours, Mary received a large number of care packages and needed them sorted. As I was going through the packages and sorting them, I was also collecting the package slips so she would be able to send thank you notes. When I went to reach for one I noticed that it said it was from Grand Rapids, MI. I was pretty geeked that there was a care package from my hometown in my hands, and when I told Mary she gave me the honors of opening it. It was great to receive something from home from so far away, and it was definitely a nice feeling.

I haven’t been home since last May, and I won’t be home for Post-Deployment Leave until April, so I will be gone for almost an entire year! My girlfriend Shelby has missed me terribly. When she was able to hear what had happened, I know it even lifted her spirits as she witnessed how my morale was definitely boosted a little bit.

I can’t wait until my plane lands at Gerald R. Ford Airport and I’m able to see them again! April 1st can’t come soon enough! I’ll finally land around 3-3:30 and not too much longer after that I get to give everyone a big hug, so your care packages do more than just send us needed supplies, it boosts us up for just a little while longer so we can get through another day away from our families and our homes!

Thanks for everything you do!