Fifty years will be celebrated with 50 acts of kindness Kalamazoo’s Family Health Center leaders say

Lunch was free Wednesday at the Nonla Burger restaurant at 2103 S. Burdick St. in Kalamazoo. And at Los Brothers Mexican Food at 2015 Portage St. And at Ty’s Joint, the new chicken and waffles eatery at 1301 Portage St.
“Anybody who walked through the door, we just provided their lunch,” says Denise Crawford, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Family Health Center of Kalamazoo.
Free lunch was the first of 50 “Thank Yous” the Family Health Center says it will give to the community between now and the end of December to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
“We paid for their lunch. So we just had them run up a tab and we gave them information,” she says. “And we just told them, ‘Thank You’ from Family Health Center. Enjoy your day.”
Denise Crawford, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Family Health Center of Kalamazoo When planning the acts of kindness, Family Health Center took into consideration all the challenges people have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. “As opposed to doing a large-scale event where we bring in individuals and our donors and try to have a big gathering and a presentation, we made the decision this year that people have really been through a lot,” Crawford says.
So it was decided that the focus of the anniversary would be on the community, “and how can we truly celebrate our community members who have allowed us to be in existence for the past 50 years,” she says.
With that focus, the organization has resolved to do 50 acts of kindness in the community during the balance of this year, family-friendly activities that will be done by members of the FHC staff at a rate of two to three per week.
“It’s everything from shoveling (snow) to hanging lights and decorating people’s porches or whatever for the holidays,” Crawford says. “We’ll be giving out turkeys. Giving out pumpkins. We’re going to hair salons. We’re paying for hair. We’re paying for haircuts. The list goes on and on.”
Familly Health Center is known for its annual back-to-school backpack and supplies giveaway. 
According to information provided by the organization, other acts of kindness may include:
• Spearheading fundraisers for local nonprofit organizations;
• Assembling care packages for individuals serving in the military;
• Providing school supplies to Kalamazoo Public Schools classrooms;
• Offering pop-up wellness clinics in local neighborhoods;
• Volunteering to clean neighborhoods, plant trees, and serve meals.
• And hosting neighborhood garage sales.
The Family Health Center provides primary, preventive, and supplemental health services, including dental and mental health care, to more than 50,000 active patients in Kalamazoo County. The number of “active patients,” a designation for individuals who have visited FHC facilities three times or more during the past year, has risen exponentially from about 20,000 active patients when Crawford started in 2009.
“In 1971, it started off as a truck (actually a trailer) that would provide medical services to the community,” explains Sherrie Fuller, chairwoman of the FHC Board of Directors. She describes the care it now provides as exceptional.
Sherrie Fuller, Chairwoman of the Family Health Center Board of Directors“People who have been here and been familiar with the Family Health Center over the years have seen the highs and the lows of the organization,” she says. But she says, “I would say that right now, we are performing at peak level. … We provide quality service to the community. We are an open-door facility. So whoever comes through the doors, we’re there to service them. It doesn’t matter if you have insurance or not.”
She says people who have no insurance can expect the same care from quality, board-certified doctors as those who have the best insurance. The Family Health Center employs a staff of about 300 people (from 297 to 306 at any time). And its main location at 117 W. Paterson St. has grown from a small clinic working out of a donated trailer at Paterson and Burdick streets, to a 75,000-square-foot facility with 104 examination rooms, not counting a separate 5,000-square-foot dental clinic. The facility helps the professional staff accommodate 165,000 patient visits per year. And they fill about 175,000 prescriptions per year.
The federally qualified health center operates on an annual operating budget of about $48 million, with all of Kalamazoo County as its service area. It is primarily funded with federal dollars and has a sliding fee scale, based on people’s ability to pay.
“We ensure that everyone has access to primary care – everyone within Kalamazoo County has access to primary care – regardless of their ability to pay,” Crawford says. “So we do consider ourselves to be the safety net. And our target population is uninsured, underinsured, homeless, and undocumented individuals. But, of course, we will provide services to anyone.”
Family Health Center opened a southside location at 505 E. Alcott St. in March of 2017. Interestingly enough, both locations (Paterson and Alcott) really have the same footprint of 75,000 square feet,” Crawford says. “The primary difference with the Alcott facility is that it has the full dental operatory as well.”
The Family Health Centers location at 505 E. Alcott has 25 dental stations.

It has 25 dental stations, versus the five at the Family Health Center Dental Clinic adjacent to its Paterson Street location.
“So when we added that, (the Alcott Street location), we wanted to make sure we were incorporating oral health services,” Crawford says.
The southside location also was intended to make sure that people on that side of town are within 15 minutes of a Family Health Center facility.
Fuller says the biggest challenge facing the Family Health Center is motivating people to be consistent with their own care.
“We are there. We are available,” she says. “I think the biggest challenge is getting people to take advantage of it, No. 1. And to take ownership of their own health care.”
She said she is most looking forward to the continual growth of the organization. Fuller says, “Today we were out in the community, giving back to the community. And we’re going to continue doing that.”
Crawford says the Acts of Kindness celebration helps Family Health Center avoid hosting a large gathering, which is consistent with the organization’s commitment to helping stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep people healthy. FHC has completed 89 COVID vaccine events, inoculating more than 12,000 people, with 68 percent of those were people of color.
“We’ve been everywhere from Vicksburg and way, way down south (in Kalamazoo County),” Crawford says, “to the City of Kalamazoo -- the North Side and the South Side and the East Side and everywhere in between.”
Crawford says Family Health Center is intentionally not posting and advertising the 50 Acts of Kindness ahead of time. They will be posted after they have occurred. An exception will be a free drive-in movie night sometime this fall in the Family Health Center parking lot on Paterson Street. That event will be announced about two weeks in advance and the parking lot will be filled on a first-come-first-served basis.
“We just want to surprise and support everyone,” she says. “We don’t want to flood restaurants. Or have people flooding in to get a free lunch.”
About the 50 acts of kindness, Fuller says, “That’s what you do. When the community has been good to you, you have to be good to the community. It’s that reciprocity piece. If we can go around to different places and say, ‘Thank you for being a part of our family for the 50 years and allowing us to exist in the community’, that’s a win-win for everybody. I’m excited about that. I think this is what we should be doing.”

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Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.