The Purple Community Cabinet is comprised of community leaders who want to make an impact on cancer and neurodegenerative disease 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.
Blake has been involved with the Purple Community Cabinet since its inception in 2012. He’s very passionate about the cancer and neurodegenerative disease research being done at Van Andel Institute. His Mother, a registered nurse of 40 years, was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in 2012. She battled this disease for two and a half years. His Mom spent her entire career helping others and he looks forward to honoring her legacy by continuing to help others with all that he learned during her journey with cancer.
In addition to Blake’s work with the Purple Community Cabinet, he is also a member of VAI’s JBoard Ambassadors, serving on the Advisory Council. Outside of VAI Blake volunteers for the Cleveland Clinic’s cancer caregiver mentor program where he helps patients and their families navigate their own journeys with cancer.
Professionally, Blake works for Avanir Pharmaceuticals, a company that is focused on researching and developing medication for neurodegenerative diseases. When not working or volunteering Blake loves being on the lake, spending time outdoors, visiting his friends and family, lifting weights, and traveling both in the U.S. and abroad. He is originally from Sault Ste. Marie, having moved to West Michigan to earn his degree from Grand Valley State University. He now resides in Ada, MI with his dog Remington, a two year old golden retriever.
Matt started his time in Grand Rapids by attending Grand Valley State University for both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. After graduation, Matt spent over five years working in the software industry. During that time he held multiple roles, including leading executive development at a software company in Milwaukee, and being a global training and development consultant for a multi-billion dollar portfolio of software companies while based out of Chicago.
In late 2014, Matt started his own Leadership Development consulting company, Blue Engine Consulting, and moved back to West Michigan with his partner in 2015. Matt is excited to be back home in West Michigan and to be supporting the fight against cancer and neurodegenerative diseases by partnering with Purple Community and Van Andel Institute.
Alison Sheltrown, Cabinet Vice Chair
Alison serves as the Purple Community Cabinet Vice Chair, has recently been named the Quarterly Purple Community Angel in our volunteer program and is an overall wonderful spokesperson for Van Andel Institute.
On December 18, 2013, Alison was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 41.
She moved back to Michigan in November of 2015, and was thrilled to find the work being done here. “Knowing that there’s a team of scientists at Van Andel Institute who are working toward a cure makes me so proud, and the volunteers of Purple Community? I can’t thank them enough. The people who give their time, their love – to help people like me – it’s what really has made Grand Rapids home to me once again, after 19 years away.” Learn more about Alison by reading her story here: https://purplecommunity.vai.org/whatsyourpurple/
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.
Erik Wolenberg joined the SpartanNash corporate affairs department in June 2015 in the newly created role of Culture Manager. The focus of his position is associate engagement; core responsibilities include development and management of the company volunteer program, specialized recognition communications, and culture-building programs.
Before joining SpartanNash, 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 southeast Grand Rapids in 2012 with his wife, Megan. They welcomed their first child, Lochlan Erik Wolenberg, in July 2016 and have a golden retriever, Peyton. With his occasional free time, Erik enjoys anything green and white, playing and officiating ice hockey, running, biking, reading and volunteering.
“I am a big believer in 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. Taking on this role with Purple Community is an honor for me, and I hope to play a small part in furthering the awareness and fundraising needs for VAI.”
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.