Back in April 2009, an event took place that galvanized a community to join together for a common purpose and that, in the days since, has moved numerous communities throughout West Michigan to do the same. Little did we know at the time that a simple fundraiser at a Grandville High School women’s soccer game would become a movement poised to spread throughout the state and across its borders.
That game, dedicated to a player’s mother who has died of melanoma, raised $9,000 for cancer research at Van Andel Institute. That funding was greatly appreciated and, as in the case of all gifts to the institute, 100 percent was put to use locally, directly into the labs of VAI researchers who work to find the cellular, molecular and genetic basis of cancer and other diseases and to turn those findings into treatments that save lives.
But of even more significance was the enthusiasm, dedication and joy of 3,000 members of the community coming together to work for an important cause greater than any individual. That enthusiasm, energy and joy made us stand up and notice. We felt that if someone could bottle that, there would be enough energy to take us to the farthest reaches of space.
Instead, that energy became harnessed to an even greater cause right here in our own backyard — joining the battle against the pervasive presence of cancer in the lives of our families, friends and neighbors, and hence — since the color purple is associated with cancer awareness and cancer survivors — the Purple Game movement was born.
Since that initial game in 2009, more than 40 schools, professional teams and community organizations have hosted Purple Game events in West Michigan and surrounding areas. In that time, these devoted fans, athletes, educators and students have sold more than 25,000 purple T-shirts and have raised nearly $400,000 for cancer research at VAI.
These Purple Games have brought numerous schools and communities together to raise cancer awareness, celebrate cancer survivors, honor loved ones who have passed away, and support research that gives hope to patients and families around the world.
During that time, I’ve personally met hundreds of brave cancer patients and survivors, and unfortunately I’ve also looked into the eyes of children who have lost their mothers to cancer, and have gotten to know a few individuals who are no longer with us.
Their suffering and their struggle will never be forgotten by their loved ones — nor will it be forgotten by me or by the scientists of Van Andel Institute whose job is to develop advanced cures to eliminate this type of human suffering from the world.
Last year alone, about 570,000 men, women and children were killed by cancer in this country, the approximate number of all persons living in Kent County today — every man, woman and child.
That number should bring us to the realization that there is much more work to be done: more work, more research, more education, more funding, and the development of cheaper, faster and more effective treatments.
On Feb. 16, we unveiled a new program designed to more effectively give people the opportunity to become involved in this important cause. Purple Community—100% Hope counts on the support of cancer survivors, their friends and neighbors and other supporters statewide, and offers the opportunity to mobilize at the grass-roots level.
The first official Purple Community Purple Game was hosted by the Grand Rapids Griffins in mid-February, and the initiative looks to organize more than 50 Purple Game events throughout the state of Michigan in 2012 in hopes of raising a half-million dollars for cancer research in 2012.
The initiative has come a long way since the first Purple Game back in 2009, but Van Andel Institute’s ongoing mission remains the same: improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations through disease research, which aims to translate discoveries at the molecular level into effective therapies for patients.
Please join us in this important cause. Our research staff, countless patients, and families, friends and neighbors in West Michigan and throughout the world thank you.
David Van Andel is chairman and CEO of Van Andel Institute.