Expanding hope for the holidays

Becky Vargo • Oct 20, 2017 at 2:00 PM

An Ottawa County-based organization made up of emergency personnel is looking for families and individuals affected by cancer to support during the holidays and beyond.

The Zeeland Fire Department and Holland Department of Public Safety created Shields of Hope in 2014 “to spread hope, love and encouragement to those in our community affected by cancer,” its organizers say. The group adopts families and individuals to make the holidays a little brighter for them.

The group’s president, Chad Lynema, said Shields of Hope is known for sending families, with all costs paid, for an overnight adventure at Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City, as well as in-home visits.

Lynema, who works full time for Consumers Energy and is also a captain for the Zeeland Fire Department, said the organization is working hard to spread its works to include all of Ottawa County, as well as Allegan, Kent and Muskegon counties.

“We hope to get one family from each area,” he said.

Nominations for the Heroes Holiday Program can be made online. Eligible applicants will have completed treatment or received their wings within the past six months. Fighters and survivors must be living in the home where the gifts will be delivered. Nominations are due Oct. 27.

Lynema and Holland police officer Joe Maat originally worked with an organization called Pink Heals, but say they created Shields of Hope to keep all the funds and activities local. Lynema said when the Pink Heals Tour arrived in Ottawa County a few years ago, they realized they could make a bigger impact locally with their own organization.

“We organized the Pig Out in Zeeland,” Lynema said. “It wasn’t about cancer at first.”

Pink Heals volunteers drive pink fire trucks and pink police cars on visits to provide people with donated goods and services.

“We loved what it was doing and how it impacted people in our own area,” Lynema said.

Shields of Hope does the same type of service on a more local level. The organization is funded with the help of business partners, merchandise sales and local fundraising events throughout the year.

There’s also the big event of the year, an annual Heroes Summer Reunion in mid-August.

This Saturday, Oct. 21, is an event re-scheduled from last weekend, a benefit motorcycle Ride for Emma. The 9-year-old girl is being treated for neuroblastoma.

The ride starts at 1 p.m. at Zeigler Motorsports in Kalamazoo. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. The ride ends at the Eagles Club in Allegan. 

Today (Friday, Oct. 20) is the Pink Out Party at the Pipeline Smokehouse and Bar, 9104 U.S. 31 in West Olive. All proceeds from the cover charge, and raffle ticket, T-shirt and shot sales go to Shields of Hope. Ten percent of all other sales, including dining, will also be donated. 

On Saturday, Nov. 4, the Heroes 5k starts at the Blendon Township Fire Station, 5346 Tyler St., Hudsonville. Emergency personnel are encouraged to run or walk in full turnout gear or uniform. There will also be a silent auction. Proceeds benefit Shields of Hope and Georgetown Capt. Al Feenstra. Registration is at EventBrite.

Tuesday, Nov. 7, is the Shields of Hope fundraiser at Crazy Horse Steakhouse and Saloon in Holland. Volunteers will work as servers to earn money for the organization.

Lynema said, as always, volunteers are welcome and families are encouraged to participate, with the exception that children are not allowed at the bar fundraisers. 

A volunteer meeting is planned for Sunday, Nov. 26, at 6:30 p.m. at the Zeeland fire station, 29 W. Main St. For more information, “like” the Shields of Hope Facebook page. You can also check out the website at shieldsofhopewestmi.com, where you can sign up to receive the newsletter.

Lynema said the organization is fully funded by donations and 100 percent of the money goes back to the community.

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