Shirley and James Balk have given so much to the people of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Through the James and Shirley Balk Foundation, they’ve funded education initiatives, healthcare organizations and local arts. They’ve supported the nonprofit healthcare system Spectrum Health. Their foundation has beautified tourist attraction Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. And since 2005, their philanthropy has also extended to United Church Homes’ Pilgrim Manor through the community’s VanRee Fund.
In the early 2000s, Shirley’s mother, Dorothy M. VanRee, lived at Pilgrim Manor, and the Balks had a wonderful experience with the community. After Dorothy passed away in 2004, Shirley and her husband wanted to do something for the residents of Pilgrim Manor, and the VanRee Fund was born.
“Basically, the VanRee Fund is a trip fund,” said Alexandra Wilson, director of annual giving and special events. “Our activities department uses money from that fund to take residents all over the city.”
Typical outings include baseball games, bowling, ballet, the museum, Ford Museum and Meijer Gardens, to name a few, and local attraction membership costs also come from the fund.
Residents truly benefit from the VanRee Fund, Alex said. “Being able to experience the greater community enhances our residents’ quality of life. Without it, they would not have these opportunities.”
In 2010, the fund enabled Pilgrim Manor to buy a bus, which holds 14 residents, and Keri Kerr, recreation therapist, is licensed to drive it.
The bus not only provides transportation for residents, it connects them with family members, often transporting them together to events. This past year, residents and family members rode the bus in the Grand Rapids’ popular Pulaski Days parade. The annual week-long festival started in 1973, and many of Pilgrim Manor’s residents celebrated in that inaugural year.
“We love that they can continue to attend Pulaski Days and other events around town,” Director of Recreational Therapy and Volunteers Jennifer Raymond said. “Having the Pilgrim Manor bus gives our skilled nursing and assisted living residents a sense of normalcy they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Although 15 years have passed since the Balks made their first contribution to the fund, it’s going strong, and its legacy can be seen on Pilgrim Manor’s residents’ faces as they spend an afternoon at the zoo or take a bus trip through the ball park to see Western Michigan’s biggest drive-through display of Christmas lights.
“Every day, thanks to the VanRee Fund, we’re out there making memories for our residents — some who have so little,” Jennifer said. “The fund is a blessing, and we couldn’t be more grateful.”