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Thursday, 16 July 2015 11:25

Children’s Healing Center benefits from generosity of West Michigan businesses

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Grand Rapids-based Children’s Healing Center relied on in-kind donations for about half the budget it used in the build-out of its facility, the nation’s first year-round recreational center for children with weak immune systems. Grand Rapids-based Children’s Healing Center relied on in-kind donations for about half the budget it used in the build-out of its facility, the nation’s first year-round recreational center for children with weak immune systems. COURTESY PHOTO

GRAND RAPIDS — While some nonprofit organizations are able to start small with nothing more than a mission and perhaps some minimal office space, that was not a viable option for Children’s Healing Center.

Poised to become the nation’s first year-round recreational center for children with weak immune systems, the Grand Rapids-based organization needed about five years and significant help from the community and the private sector to finally solidify what had been an ever-changing grand opening date.

The Children’s Healing Center will open for business on Sept. 16 at 1530 Fulton St. SE in Grand Rapids.

Because of the organization’s paramount need for an ultra-clean facility, the Children’s Healing Center relied on contributions from area construction, engineering, architectural, interior decorating and furniture companies, said Executive Director Amanda Winn.

“I think that the donated services we have been blessed with and the contractors’ gifts — and joining us in our mission — really helped it become a success,” said Winn, who fought and beat stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma when she was 22 years old.

“Part of the reason that there hasn’t been something like this before is because it takes a significant capital investment. A lot of nonprofits can be started in a basement of a church and raise their money — we had to build,” she said. “By them investing so much in-kind allowed us to get going on the space while we were still fundraising.”

The center, which is aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 18, will be equipped with four different zones, one each for exploratory play, active fitness, technology and art and learning.

The Children’s Healing Center will fulfill the primary need of its guests by devoting a quarter of its operating budget to resources that will keep the center clean. The center is equipped with features like a HEPA air filtration system and positive pressurization for air quality control, a tap water filtration system and microbial resistant surfaces that can be disinfected frequently.

Families are asked to pay a monthly fee for access to the center, which will also offer scheduled classes and programming.

The center’s mission grew from Winn’s personal experience during her fight with cancer. Children with weak immune systems are primarily forced into isolation — and they aren’t the only ones affected by the process.

“It wasn’t just the patients that had these restrictions — it’s their siblings and families, as well,” Winn said. “They’re limited, too. They can’t go out to places that might be germ-infested and then come back.”

The grand opening for the center will signify the end of a nearly five-and-a-half-year journey for Winn and the scores of individuals that have worked alongside of her in launching the organization.

The Children’s Healing Center is currently in the public phase of its $1.8 million fundraising campaign. At the time this report went to press, the organization was 85 percent of the way there, Winn said.

The funds will cover the center’s first three years of operation (with an annual operational budget just less than $400,000), startup costs, up-front renovations, equipment and some contingency funds.


The outpouring of support from local businesses that contributed to these facility renovations proved to be the game changer for the Children’s Healing Center. Winn said that the organization invested $650,000 to $700,000 in the facility and that more than 50 percent was given in the form of free services and materials.

Just a few of the key partners included Kalamazoo-based Diekema Hamann Engineering LLC, Dixon Interior Design LLC, AMDG Architects Inc., Rockford Construction Co., Armock Mechanical Contractors Inc., Van Dyken Mechanical Inc., Century Flooring and Handorn Inc. Additionally, Haworth Inc. donated the facility’s furniture through dealer Interphase Interiors Inc.

“I would say I’m overwhelmed with the support we have received,” Winn said. “When we’re presenting an idea that has a need but has never been done, it takes a lot of trust by the people that are investing in it.”

Julie Smith, PR and communications manager at Haworth, provided a glimpse at how the furniture giant vets its many requests for in-kind donations. Haworth uses a giving committee that looks at each proposal through the lens of its list of values.

Smith said the Children’s Healing Center hit one of Haworth’s primary values: education. The project was brought to Haworth’s attention through Randy DeBoer, then the president of Interphase Interiors. DeBoer has since sold the company.

“There are a lot of opportunities that come to us and allow us to give in-kind and give the products we manufacture as opposed to just money,” Smith said. “We often get contacted about them through our dealers and people all over the country and the world. It’s part of the fabric of what we do every day.”

While nonprofit dialogue is often dominated by talk of fundraising, the Children’s Healing Center’s communications underscored the importance of in-kind donations.

Although Winn and her team got a needed boost from in-kind donations in the startup phase, existing nonprofits can also rely heavily on this form of giving.

Kids’ Food Basket is just one of the many prime examples of the potential with in-kind donations. In existence for the last 13 years, the organization, which targets childhood hunger, has occupied four different spaces. Development director Afton DeVos said that the first three locations — both the space and utilities — were completely donated in-kind.

In 2010, when the organization moved to its current location at 2055 Oak Industrial Dr. NE in Grand Rapids, the nonprofit conducted a capital campaign where a third of the funds were covered by in-kind donations.


The list goes on for Kids’ Food Basket with in-kind donations and services for everything from food to legal and PR services. The key to building a solid infrastructure of in-kind donations is leveraging relationships, DeVos said.

“It’s always about relationships,” she said. “Who do you have personal relationships with that can access these services and provide services you can trust? You want someone who you know would do a good job for you — as if they were doing the job for full cost.”

While nonprofits looking to defray as many expenses as possible might be tempted to take any and every handout, DeVos said Kids’ Food Basket has learned to be very choosy when it comes to finding the right partners.

It also needs to be a two-way street, where the company giving the donation gets something out of the deal.

“I would say, on average, (nonprofits are) not looking for whatever they can get. They’re looking for quality services,” DeVos said. “More and more businesses are starting to treat them like clients and giving to them just like they service their customers.”

“And, we are a great mouthpiece for talking about those services,” she added. “We’ll share about their generosity.”

While it’s clear that most nonprofit executives value this form of donating, there are some cases where cash is still king.

Tami VandenBerg, executive director at Well House in Grand Rapids, credited many local businesses for pro-bono services that have helped the organization in its mission to offer affordable housing to homeless residents. Well House receives pro-bono legal service from Clark Hill PLC, while Nourish Organic Market LLC has been crucial for providing tenants with healthy food options.

VandenBerg and her team have also saved money with donated building materials.

“In terms of importance, cash is usually most helpful, unless the service is highly skilled,” VandenBerg said. “In terms of goods, this can be very helpful, but managing all the goods can cost money in terms of staff time.

“So, the answer isn’t simple. We are less dependent on donated goods and services now that we are more established.”

Read 1993 times Last modified on Tuesday, 21 July 2015 09:53
Jayson Bussa

Staff writer/Web editor

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