The Purple Community Cabinet is comprised of community leaders who want to make an impact on cancer, Parkinson’s disease and other research at
Van Andel Institute through supporting the fundraising initiatives of the Purple Community program. These individuals serve as ambassadors and advocates for Purple Community through their work on this dynamic, hands-on, grassroots fundraising team, helping to create new events and partnerships, promote Purple Community events and activities, and volunteering throughout the year at events around West Michigan and beyond.
Click here to learn more about the Cabinet, opportunities available and position descriptions.
If you would like to receive more information about our cabinet and how to join, please contact Ashley Owen, Senior Event Coordinator, at Ashley.Owen@vai.org or 616.234.5390.
Alyssa Nance, Cabinet Co-Chair
Alyssa Nance is a Field Marketing Analyst for State Farm. She has been in her current marketing role with State Farm for the last year and has worked with the states of Michigan and Ohio on marketing strategies. Prior to her marketing role with State Farm, she was a Senior Agency Field Specialist for three years in the West Michigan area working with over 80 agents on company deployments and agents sales processes. She started with the company back in 2009 when she sold insurance as a licensed team member for four years for agent Marsha Veenstra.
Alyssa holds her bachelors degree in business from Calvin College where she graduated from in 2010. While at Calvin, Alyssa swam for four years and was a two-year captain. Her love for swimming led her to be the girl’s head swim coach for five years at Grand Rapids Christian High School.
Alyssa was born and raised in Grand Rapids. In their free time, Alyssa and her husband Chris are involved at Ada Bible Church, cheer on the maze and blue, spend time with family, run, bike, swim and boat.
Alyssa was drawn to Van Andel Institute through the JBoard Ambassadors where she has been a member for six years and has been a member of the JBoard Advisory Council for the last couple years. Alyssa has been touched by cancer within her family as well as many loved ones that surround her. “I love the work Van Andel Institute does and I am passionate about creating more awareness within the community. I am excited to spend more of my time with Purple Community as I can further help create more hope for those struggling with cancer and other neurodegenerative diseases,” Alyssa said.
Erik Wolenberg, Cabinet Co-Chair
Erik Wolenberg is currently the Director of Development and Corporate Impact for the Hope Network Foundation. Previously, he worked at SpartanNash from 2015 to 2019 as a Product Development Manager overseeing private brand products like beverages and snacks, as well as the company’s Culture Manager, focusing on developing employee engagement programs and initiatives like the company volunteer program, specialized recognition communications, and culture-building collaborations. Prior to that, Erik was the marketing and public relations manager for LaughFest and Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids from 2012 to 2015. He holds bachelor’s degrees in general management and human resources from Michigan State University and an MBA from Central Michigan University.
Originally from the Lansing, Michigan area, Erik moved to Grand Rapids in 2012 with his wife, Megan. They welcomed their son, Lochlan, in July 2016 and daughter, Rowan, in July 2018 and have a golden retriever, Peyton. With his occasional free time, Erik enjoys anything Green and White, playing and officiating ice hockey, cooking, running, biking, reading and volunteering.
“I am a passionate supporter of the work being done at Van Andel Institute, and love the way that Purple Community connects with people around the state to raise awareness and funds for VAI,” said Erik. “Like millions of people around the globe, I really hate cancer; it has impacted many people that are close to me. I also watched as Alzheimer’s took its toll on my grandmother over the course of nearly a decade and look forward to the day when research done at VAI leads to a cure for cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases. Serving on Purple Community Cabinet has been an honor for me, and I hope to play a small part in growing awareness and supporting fundraising needs for the critical research taking place at VAI.”
Therese Cooper, Vice Chair
Therese Cooper is currently an administrative assistant at Spectrum Health System Communications & Marketing. She has been in her current marketing role for the last 4 years. Prior to her marketing role with SH, she was a Senior Program Manager at Amway. She is proud of community involvement that both of these employers provide. Therese holds a bachelors in Marketing from Davenport College, a BFA in Advertising from Kendall College and is a certified project manager.
Therese and her husband our native Michiganders. In their free time, they spend time with their daughter enjoying Michigan’s beauty, whether at the lakes or just on their deck. One of their growing family concerns however is the rising of contaminations to Michigan’s environment/water and the harmful effects they can have on its inhabitants.
Therese was drawn to Van Andel Institute due to her father Frank’s battle/loss from Parkinson’s disease. “It’s hard enough to lose someone that you love but to watch them to slowly become a prisoner in their deteriorating body is heart wrenching. I hope when I meet my father in heaven I can tell them they found a cure and I was able to help.”
Halle Billinghurst, Event Chair
Halle Billinghurst is currently the Senior Event Manager for Hope Network. While working at Hope Network, she has managed events such as the One in Five Marathon Relay, Bridge Walk for Autism and the Sounds like Hope Benefit Concert featuring Andy Grammer and Ben Rector. Her role includes overseeing event logistics, building relationships with vendors, volunteer recruitment/management and collaboration on new events. She holds a Health Communications degree from Grand Valley State University. Some of her interests include spending time with family & friends, boating, traveling, reading and running.
Halle has lived in West Michigan her whole life. Growing up in Spring Lake, Michigan, Halle moved to Grand Rapids when she began attending GVSU. After interning with Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan in her senior year at Grand Valley, Halle realized her passion for events. Along with her role at Hope Network, she enjoys becoming more involved in the non-profit community through volunteering, joining organization boards and participating in community events. She currently is a member of Women in Development and is the Membership Co-chair for Young Nonprofit Professionals of Grand Rapids.
“This past year, I was able to attend the Purple Community Hope on the Hill Gala. The event had an impact on me, not just because of all the amazing research being done, but also the support provided by VAI to the Grand Rapids community to help them in any way needed. I am excited for this opportunity to be able to contribute my resources to such a worthy organization, while allowing me to grow as a professional.”
Ken Evans, PR/Marketing Chair
Ken Evans has been a member of the West Michigan media landscape for nearly two decades with a career that’s engaged our community with stops at Clear Channel Media, Cumulus Media and iHeartMedia. He currently wakes up West Michigan on 105.3 Hot FM and is heavily involved in audience engagement in Grand Rapids.
Ken began working directly with the Purple Community Cabinet in 2017 following the loss of his mother to complications from non-small cell lung cancer and squamous cell lung cancer. But Ken’s support of the Van Andel Institute’s mission goes back many years starting with VAI’s Mask Projects in the early 2000s.
In recent years, Ken has been heavily involved in the West Michigan philanthropic community lending his support to the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Radiothon, the Metro Health Foundation, the Social Charity Club of Grand Rapids, West Michigan Catholic Charities and more. He was also the media coordinator for Kalamazoo’s Roofsit for Kids from 2006-2011 and spearheaded Stuff the Bus for Toys For Tots in West Michigan.
Although Ken and his wife Jessica grew up in Detroit, they have called West Michigan home for the past 20 years and have decided that this is definitely Michigan’s best coast. Ken enjoys spending time with his ten year-old son Zak, hunting, sampling Beer City and volunteering.
Sally Schaafsma, Volunteer Chair
Sally Schaafsma retired from Steelcase after 22 years in Sales and Marketing and now spends her time as a community volunteer. She previously served on the Circle Theatre board and her Las Vegas condo association including three years as president.
Her past volunteering includes four years with ArtPrize including setting up and managing the volunteer program, and three years LaughFest managing the merchandise/inventory program and assisting with the volunteer program. She joined the DisArt Festival leadership team and developed the volunteer program, and continues to volunteer/work with them. In addition, she currently volunteers for Fredrick Meijer Gardens in various areas including the gift shop, special events, accounting, concerts and where needed.
In February, she joined Purple Community as a volunteer to assist/organize the merchandise, develop/maintain an inventory system and event preparations. She and her husband, Marvin, live in Rockford.
David is a Professor of at Aquinas College where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Communication and Management. Prior to teaching, David worked in Student Affairs at Bowling Green and Kent State Universities in Ohio.
David has earned degrees in Social Work, Psychology and Counseling, College Student Personnel, and Interpersonal Communication. As a speaker, consultant and personal communication coach, he has conducted hundreds of seminars and workshops throughout the Midwest on topics related to communication and motivation.
Perhaps most importantly, David has been very involved in the West Michigan community as a volunteer and board member for numerous organizations including Community Circle Theatre, the Bowling Green State University Alumni Association, Spectrum Health, and the Ms. Wheelchair America, Miss Michigan and Miss Michigan Outstanding Teen Scholarship Programs.