Nonprofit launches public phase of $850K fund drive for move to new HQ

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The Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan serves hundreds of local families by providing recreational, social and skill-building activities for area residents with special needs and their families each year. Courtesy Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan

The Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan is looking to complete an $850,000 fundraising campaign for moving its headquarters to the new Special Olympics facility in Byron Center and expanding its services.

The Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan Foundation (DSAWMF) on Thursday announced at a news conference the public phase of the Connecting Communities campaign, an $850,000 fundraising effort to move the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan’s headquarters to the new Special Olympics Michigan Unified Sports & Inclusion Center at 160 68th St. SW in Byron Center, expand staff and programming services, and build sustainability through an enhanced endowment fund.

DSAWMF was established in 2012 to ensure the financial sustainability of its sister organization, the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan (DSAWM). Founded in 1985 by six couples who had children with Down syndrome, the DSAWM’s original aim was to provide support and share knowledge with other families. Through the years, the goals of the organization have broadened to include regular programming for children, teens and adults with Down syndrome. DSAWM also serves as an advocacy group, raises public awareness about Down syndrome, and provides for the distribution of information relevant to Down syndrome.

The DSAWM serves hundreds of local families by providing recreational, social and skill-building activities for area residents with special needs and their families each year. These activities help build a network of support for these families and their children, leading to lifelong friendships and a connected community that provides support for families raising children with disabilities.

Launched last year, the Connecting Communities campaign raised more than $800,000 over the past several months, 95% of the overall campaign goal. Over 75 community donors, local businesses and area foundations have supported the campaign to date. Thursday marked the launch of the public phase of the campaign.

DSAWMF and DSAWM leaders already have relocated their offices to the Special Olympics campus in Byron Center. The facility, formerly South Christian High School, was transformed into the largest Special Olympics training center in the world. The new facility provides significantly more space for Special Olympics and DSAWM program staff, volunteers, and area youth and adults.

At Thursday’s news conference, campaign co-chairs Jim Leach, president of Hobart Sales and Service, and Rich Kloeckner, product and operations manager at Rapidparts Inc., invited the public to join in the fundraising effort, which will continue through the end of the year.

“The invitation to join the Special Olympics at this new campus was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Leach said. “As we work to provide the very best in programming for children and adults with Down syndrome, I am pleased to be part of an effort that truly gives area families a strong support network, provides children with a place where they feel like they belong and builds partnerships with like-minded organizations.

“This is an exceptional opportunity for our community to help build a strong network of support for children and adults (who) sometimes struggle to find activities and opportunities that meet their abilities. If we can provide the venue, we know we can reach more families.”

Kloeckner said demand for DSAWM’s programs is increasing.

“Currently, we are providing support to nearly 350 people with Down syndrome in the counties we serve, and we anticipate serving many more families over the next several years as West Michigan grows,” he said.

Bob Boylen, board president of DSAWMF, thanked the donors who have so far contributed to the fund drive.

“We have been so fortunate to receive gifts to this important campaign,” he said. “Our campaign cabinet joins me in thanking the community for their meaningful gifts. We now invite the broader community to help us complete this campaign effort, (and) we welcome gifts of all sizes.”

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