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Children's Leukemia Foundation sets up regional base in downtown Grand Rapids

February 19, 2013
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West Michigan residents suffering with leukemia will have a place to turn this spring.

On April 1, the Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan will be opening an office in a vacant space in the McKay Tower, at 146 Monroe Center NW.

The new 1,000-square-foot office will serve as a base of operations for CLF’s work in West Michigan, said Bill Seklar, president and CEO of CLF of Michigan. CLF will enter a five-year lease for a price that will range between $16 and $18 per square foot, he said.

“We really do not have any office equipment or furniture, and we’re going to be in need of that,” Seklar said. “It’s important to me that we use local products and local service. We’ll probably reach out to Steelcase and Herman Miller and see if we can do a partnership. We think the office should be a reflection of the community.”

CLF is a nonprofit that provides financial and emotional aid to Michigan families affected by leukemia. The organization assists up to 4,440 families a year, he said, adding that about 20 percent of those families are from the West Michigan area.

Seklar said the number of families CLF serves in the region "continues to grow, especially in the Hispanic community."

"The language barrier sometimes makes it difficult to get access to services, but it’s one of the largest-growing communities in the state,” he said. “From our work with the Hispanic leaders in the community, we learned they were affected by the disease, but did not know us and could not communicate. So moving forward, our interest is to reduce that barrier.”

Seklar said CLF is fortunate to be establishing a base of operations in a world-class medical city like Grand Rapids.

“We are excited to see the unbelievable growth and expansion in the area of health care and treatment in the Grand Rapids area,” he said. “We are incredibly moved by the Medical Mile and all the infrastructure put in place to help people in need. It’s exciting for us to be part of that growth.”

Funds raised locally will remain in West Michigan, he said, adding CLF’s goal will be to have four locally hired staff on site.

CLF is looking to hire two part-time social workers, a community outreach coordinator and a development/fundraising staffer. Being bilingual, particularly in Spanish, will be a priority.

CLF is headquartered in Troy and is considering a center in northern Michigan, in addition to the new facility in Grand Rapids. 

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CLF was founded in 1952 by five families, each having lost a child to leukemia. They vowed no one else should have to go through it alone, Seklar said.

Seklar’s uncle was one of the first leukemia patients to be involved with CLF, he said, and he has lost two cousins to the disease.

“Because of what CLF did for them, our family became forever grateful to them,” he said. “It’s sort of come full circle. I wish my parents and grandparents were around to see how I’m supporting their organization. It’s really a testament to what they started.”

Seklar said CLF has seen a rise recently in adult diagnoses for leukemia, although the health community has not been able to pin down the reasons. The good news, however, is that the survival rate for leukemia is about 90 percent, he said.

CRUSH Grand Rapids Wine and Food Classic

As a way of introducing itself to West Michigan, CLF will host its first annual CRUSH Grand Rapids Wine and Food Classic on Saturday, March 9, at Reserve Wine & Food in downtown Grand Rapids.

The fundraiser event will recognize Dr. James Fahner, director of pediatric hematology and oncology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, with the 2013 Pioneers in Medicine Award, and Varnum LLP with the Corporate Leadership Award.

The event will also feature nine culinary chef masters.

  • Paul Virant, of Vie and Perennial in Chicago, who will serve at the 2013 Honorary Executive Chef and Restaurateur
  • Matt Millar, of Reserve Wine & Food, who will serve as the 2013 Honorary Culinary Director
  • Myles Anton, of Trattoria Stella in Traverse City
  • Mathew Green, of Reserve
  • Guillaume Hazaël-Massieux, of La Bécasse in Maple City
  • Josef Huber, of Amway Hotel Corp.
  • John Korycki, of Zazio’s in Kalamazoo
  • Colin McPhee, of Bar Divani
  • Matt Peitsch, of Salt of the Earth in Fennville
  • Joel Wabeke, of Trillium Haven

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