Meet the Team

ashley-owen-final-headshotAshley Owen, Purple Community Senior Event Coordinator

Ashley has made a career of fundraising and helping others to achieve philanthropic success. After graduating with a degree in Organizational Communication from Western Michigan University, Ashley started her career working as an Event Coordinator with Bankmark, which provided logistics for the IPO of Grand River Bank in Grandville, MI. She later served as Development Associate for the American Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids and as Event Coordinator and Senior Event Coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. There she oversaw a $2.1 million event budget and over 200 committee members which produced a variety of events annually, including galas, golf outings, a Chicago Marathon running team and the Spirit of Saint Nicholas Ball. After several years, she returned to Grand Rapids and served as Event & Corporate Relations Manager for Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids and Gilda’s LaughFest. In her current role with Purple Community, Ashley is thrilled to be able to use her years of fundraising experience to provide support to individuals and organizations that want to raise funds and have a passion for cancer and Parkinson’s disease research. Having lost a grandfather to prostate cancer, an aunt who is a 20 year breast cancer survivor, a 10 year old cousin recently diagnosed with Leukemia and countless friends on cancer or neurodegenerative disease journeys, raising funds for Van Andel Institute provides her with the opportunity to be proactive in the fight against these devastating diseases. Ashley is ready to help YOU join the fight today!

Contact Ashley at or 616.234.5390.

allyson-huttenga-photoAllyson Huttenga, Volunteer and Community Relations

Allyson is a recent graduate of Aquinas College with her Bachelor of Arts degree in Community Leadership and a minor in Developmental Psychology. Allyson has had three very close family members affected by cancer throughout her life which drives her passion for Purple Community. Allyson started as a Purple Community intern in August of 2016 and is now a full time employee of the Institute. Her role at Van Andel Institute (VAI) consists of managing Purple Community’s volunteer program, assisting with events both internal and external to VAI, and providing support to different focus areas of the Institute’s Development Team. Allyson is devoted to showing others compassion, and she is able to utilize this trait and connect with community members through her position at Van Andel Institute.

Contact Allyson at or 616.234.5767.

Abbey Gehres, Purple Community Intern

Abbey is a graduate of Northwood University with a major in Healthcare Management. She is also currently a student at Grand Valley State University pursuing her Master’s in Healthcare Administration, and will graduate in 2018. Her internship career began at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in the patient access department, she then interned at Make A Wish Foundation in their development department.  These past internship experiences are what peaked her interest in events, and her strong passion for caring and helping others. When she is not in school or working she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, but especially her grandparents. Abbey feels a strong connection and passion to our mission here at Van Andel Institute; she has several family members affected by cancer including two of her grandparents and an aunt. Parkinson’s has also affected one of her close family members. As a Purple Community intern she is very excited for the new experiences that she will get to be involved in and to grow the volunteer program for others to experience the amazing feeling of helping others and giving back. 

Katherine West, Purple Community Intern

Katherine is a student at Grand Valley State University planning to graduate in December 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in Public and Nonprofit Administration. She has a concentration in Community Development and Planning with a minor in History. In the past, she has served as the Social Concerns Intern at St. Alphonsus Parish and the Corporate Affairs and Communications Intern at SpartanNash. Through these internships and past volunteer experiences, Katherine’s passions for serving others and charitable giving have been greatly developed. Having lost her grandmother and numerous other loved ones to cancer she is very excited to contribute to the Institute’s efforts in disease research. She is also passionate about serving as an advocate for those who struggle with mental illness. Katherine is excited to utilize her previous communications experience and expand her knowledge at Purple Community to spread awareness of the importance of disease research. She is very eager to help fight cancer and other diseases one step at a time!