GRAND RAPIDS — Alan Breslau’s Grand Rapids-area home served as the initial world headquarters for The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors Inc. when he founded it in 1977 to provide resources and support services to people like him.
Now 40 years and one move later, the Wyoming, Mich.-based nonprofit, which Breslau started after suffering burn injuries, is in the midst of a $6 million fundraising campaign. To date, the nonprofit has received a total of $2.25 million from two global companies that provide products and technology to the segment of the medical community focused on helping burn survivors heal.
Amy Acton, executive director of Phoenix Society, said a $1.5 million donation from Colorado-based AlloSource and a $750,000 contribution from New Jersey-based Integra LifeSciences will enable the organization to expand its scope and reach. While Phoenix does not provide actual medical services to burn survivors, it connects them to much-needed resources where they live and also offers a suite of educational programming to those who serve the burn community.
Currently, the Phoenix Society occupies about 2,000 square feet of space in a building in the suburb of Wyoming. Acton said money raised through the “Never Alone” campaign will be used to relocate the organization to Grand Rapids into a space that will offer greater high-speed connectivity for virtual training and education activities.
“It’s more about the functionality of the space for us,” Acton said. “We want to bring in teams and have that innovation space. We want to be able to have space where we can do live sessions. So it’s more around the use of technology.”
The group is still assessing what it needs in terms of square footage for its office, she said.
“We’ve quietly been doing our work in Grand Rapids and we want to have a bigger presence,” Acton said. “I’m sure there are burn survivors in the community who don’t even know we’re here.”
With Grand Rapids hosting next year’s annual World Burn Congress, Acton said she’s hopeful that Phoenix Society will be up and running in its new location by the time of the convention in September 2018. She said the anchor gifts from AlloSource and Integra, both longtime Phoenix supporters, set the tone for the campaign.
AlloSource is a nonprofit organization founded to honor the gift of human tissue donation. The organization provides more than 200 types of cartilage, cellular, bone, skin, and soft-tissue allografts to advance patient healing in a variety of medical procedures. AlloSource is one of the largest providers of skin grafts in the country, which can be a large part of the healing process for burn survivors.
AlloSource and the Phoenix Society began their partnership in 2013, when AlloSource pledged an annual contribution to support the Phoenix Society’s education grant program. Both organizations saw an opportunity for collaboration because AlloSource understands that burn survivors have a challenging time returning to the quality of life they previously maintained. The Phoenix Society helps them do exactly that.
“AlloSource’s partnership with the Phoenix Society began because we realized that our organizations’ missions are aligned,” said Dean Elliott, chief legal officer at AlloSource and a Phoenix Society board member. “AlloSource is dedicated to helping burn survivors heal physically through the use of our skin allografts, and the Phoenix Society continues the healing process by providing emotional and social support, as well as resources.
“Our involvement with the Phoenix Society gives us the privilege of seeing firsthand the impact the organization provides burn survivors around the world. AlloSource’s donation to the Never Alone campaign will enable the Phoenix Society to expand the critical support they provide. The strength of the burn community inspires us to find new ways to advance the healing process, both physically and emotionally, and we are honored to be the Phoenix Society’s partner.”
The executive leadership of Integra, which also has a longstanding relationship with Phoenix Society, said its support of the nonprofit is a natural extension of its mission.
Integra offers innovations, including leading plastic and regenerative technologies, in specialty surgical solutions, orthopedics and tissue technologies.
“We are very proud to work alongside the Phoenix Society to help provide additional support and make a difference for burn survivors and their families,” said Peter Arduini, president and CEO of Integra. “We have personally met many burn survivors and their families that benefit from Phoenix Society’s programs and are inspired by their stories. The Never Alone campaign is a great platform to continue to build awareness and help burn survivors with the psychological and emotional aspects of their recovery.”
Acton, who is herself a burn survivor, said medical advancements have increased the survival rate for burn survivors to 96 percent. She said close to 500,000 people each year who suffer burn injuries seek help and about 40,000 of them are admitted to a hospital for treatment.
Many of them go home to communities that have no organized support as they seek to recover physically and emotionally, she added.
“The need for lifelong and long-term services has really grown,” Acton said. “Our commitment to burn recovery is going beyond the physical. People are living with burn injuries, but it’s not enough for them to survive, they also need to live.”
Despite the increased need for resources, the number of burn centers has decreased from 180 to between 120 and 127 nationwide.
“It’s a lifelong injury and I was fortunate to have great support and care in my recovery,” Acton said. “We have one office and remote employees in other parts of the country, and we partner with burn centers across the country to offer peer programs in 70 of those centers.”
Phoenix currently has 11 employees, a cadre of contract workers and key volunteers, and an annual budget of $3 million. Acton said she hopes to add between seven and nine new staffers with the successful completion of the campaign in the first quarter of 2018.
“We’ve had tremendous growth over the 20 years I’ve been here,” Acton said. “We want to build infrastructure to build on our peer support, advocacy and education. We want to build that connectivity and connect people wherever they live.
“We can’t be so quiet because people need to find us. We’re an emerging global group and the only one doing what we do.”