December 21, 2017 | Matt Kucinski

Jill Bates (front row, far right) is surrounded by CCRS staff, students and patients as she receives the $16,200 check from leaders of Women Who Care of Kent County.

On Thursday, December 7, Jill Bates headed to Blythefield Country Club.

“I was excited to go. I went into a room of women where I knew no one, which is unusual for me,” said Bates, the clinical director for Calvin College’s Rehabilitation Services.

While Bates felt a little bit out of her element, she said it didn’t take long for her to feel right at home among the company of women of all ages who share the desire to be part of the charitable work that happens in the greater Grand Rapids area.

Women Who Care

She was getting to know the more than 160 women who are part of Women Who Care of Kent County. The group is an alliance of women who creates awareness of the many non-profits making a positive impact in the community and comes together four times a year to fundraise for these charities.

How it works? Each woman comes with a $100 check with the “To” line purposefully left blank. The night they meet, the names of three women in attendance are drawn out of a box. Then, each woman whose name is drawn gives an elevator pitch for an organization near and dear to her heart. There’s a brief question and answer period, and then all the women vote for their top choice.

Bates, who had just been learning the names and faces of the women at her table, said she was surprised when her name was drawn.

“I had no intentions of speaking, I had just been introduced (moments earlier),” said Bates. “I was shocked, and those who know me know I’m not easily quieted.”

A fruitful five minutes

Bates wouldn’t be quiet for long.

“First thing I said was, ‘I came here because we are all moms and sisters and grandmas and aunts and wives and we all know someone who needs therapy and has been denied because of exhausted insurance, and I want to tell you about something that’s near and dear to me.’”

And so she began talking about Calvin College Rehabilitation Services, which provides a variety of outpatient services based on an innovative model. The college’s two clinics bring together the strengths of multiple institutions and academic departments for the best possible care, integrating speech therapy, physical therapy, social work, occupational therapy and audiology.

“I had an opportunity to talk about what we’ve been doing for many years, but I focused specifically on what we are doing in the community, about our stroke therapy and talking about the continuum of care to Mary Free Bed Hospital. That we provide donation-based services here on campus and at a low cost at Calvin College Rehabilitation Services (adjacent to campus).”

Near and dear to ... their hearts

While Bates said the other two presenters had prepared more polished presentations, she soon learned her remarks struck a chord with the women that night. The proof? CCRS received the most votes.

“I had tears in my eyes, I was so excited,” said Bates.

Bates went to Blythefield Country Club with the intention of networking. She left with the commitment of more than 160 women to write $100 checks to an organization near and dear to her heart.

“Who would have known that I would be called to speak and that it would resonate. It’s a real honor,” said Bates.

Together making an impact

On Thursday, December 21, 2017, Jill Bates joined with colleagues, patients and students to accept the $16,200 check from leaders of Women Who Care of Kent County.

The next step? Bates and her colleagues determining the best tangible way for this money to make an impact. So far, one idea has risen to the top: to create a Center for evaluation and treatment for families in need of alternative and augmentative communication devices with a lending center of devices. 

“We have a couple of AAC devices that have been donated to us from those who have lost loved ones. We’ve had the opportunity to gift those to other needy people, so one thing we’ve talked about is developing a lending library of these devices so speech pathology and occupational therapy could conduct free evaluations and have devices available to loan families for trial.”

With the closest lending library at Central Michigan University, Bates says this will allow families in west Michigan to try out these devices to see if they are the right fit for their loved ones before investing thousands of dollars in the technology. She says that if they go this route, that they plan on collaborating with area institutions like Mary Free Bed Hospital and Kent ISD, among others.

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