Getting well-- Attorney believes foundation can be area 'game-changer'

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Practicing law can be a stress-filled and sedentary pursuit, says Patrick Conlin, an attorney shareholder with Keusch, Flintoft & Conlin in Chelsea.

So he's pleased to serve as secretary on the Board of the Chelsea-Area Wellness Foundation, a tax-exempt, private foundation governed by a volunteer board of directors, formed to improve the wellness of area residents. The idea is to encourage people to eat better, move more, avoid unhealthy substances, and make healthy connections with others.

Conlin was on the Board of Trustees for Chelsea Community Hospital when it merged with the St. Joseph Mercy Health System.

"As part of the negotiation, we sought to ensure the legacy of the local supporters of the hospital--citizens, doctors, staff, adminstrators--and its initiatives," he says.

"To that end, we negotiated the endowment of a foundation with a $25 million purse. The money will be used to continue and improve the wellness of the people of Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, Grass Lake and Stockbridge; the school districts form the geographic boundaries.

"We're making our first grants in our member communities and launching initiatives to further the Foundation's strategic plans. So far, we've awarded over a quarter of a million dollars to eight area organizations."

Grant recipients were Beach Middle School in Chelsea, Grass Lake Charter Township, Manchester Community Schools, Silver Maples of Chelsea Retirement Community, Chelsea Recreation Council, the Village of Stockbridge, Stockbridge Community Schools, and Grass Lake Community Schools.

An Inter Community Recreation League will be funded, in part, by the Foundation, with the goal of bringing communities together to enhance community recreation opportunities. The league benefits children in the Chelsea, Dexter, Grass Lake, Manchester, and Stockbridge school districts.

Grass Lake Community schools received more than $7,000 to support a school nutrition program: "Helping Grass Lake Kids Make Healthy Choices." This program will educate children and families about the value of healthy eating habits, and will also create an outdoor garden/learning center to connect students, staff, and families.

The CWF funded Chelsea's Heart and Sole race in May, with proceeds benefiting the Grace Clinic, a local free clinic for the uninsured; and is helping to fund a project for the Stockbridge Community Outreach, to provide food for families who struggle to provide adequate, nutritious meal options. The grant supplements donations by Farmers State Bank, Ingham County, and the Stockbridge community.

A grant to Camp Munhacke, a Boy Scout camp north of Chelsea, will fund the addition of fitness stops along the nature trails; while Dexter residents will enjoy a new Community Garden, funded in part by the CWF, providing access to fresh, organic produce.

The CWF sponsored a fruit and vegetable bar during Kindergarten Roundup in Manchester; the St. Louis Center Annual Golf and Glory Tournament, with proceeds going to the annual "Summer Games" for center residents; and the weekly Sounds and Sights on Thursday Nights in downtown Chelsea.

"We're also sponsoring the Chelsea Senior Center's annual trip to the Mackinac Bridge Labor Day Walk," Conlin says. "Seniors are already in training for the 7-mile walk and will wear CWF T-shirts."

The largest grant went to Silver Maples of Chelsea for its "Hum, Move and Groove" project, creating a community wellness path in and around its property and that of its partners in the project--St. Mary Catholic Church, Chelsea Community Hospital, Chelsea School District athletic fields, and Chelsea Senior Center.

"The partnership is a great example of the positive level of cooperation and community spirit," Conlin said.

The project features three loops: the Historic Interurban Loop is 1.9 miles long, the senior center loop is 1.2 miles long, and the Silver Maples loop is about 0.85 miles long.

Grand opening festivities with a ribbon cutting are planned for this fall. Plans are in the works to design and publish walking maps that would also include the 1.9-mile Pierce Lake Boardwalk loop. Plans also include signage that commemorates the wellness path and recognizes each of the partners, as well as a sign that highlights the history of the Interurban trolley line. A third group of signs would include wellness tips and path etiquette guidelines. The project may expand by connecting the new paths with a path that leads to and from the Chelsea Wellness Center.

CWF Board members hope to see schoolchildren, teens, employees, families and Silver Maples staff, residents and families using the paths day in and day out.

"It's great as a lawyer to have helped launch a project like this," Conlin says. "Not only is it interesting to have been part of the process, it is an unbelievable asset for our communities.

"As the Foundation makes purposeful and accessible impact on the wellness of our communities both I and my clients will all thrive. This will make our communities more desirable for families, businesses and professionals to live work and play in."

Conlin and his wife Elaine and three children enjoy camping, swimming and trying to be healthy and happy on their family farmstead near Chelsea.

Conlin, who also has served on the Board of Directors Grace Clinic of Chelsea, the Washtenaw County Bar Association, Chelsea Area Transportation System, and the Chelsea Rotary, would love to see this idea take root in other communities. He throws down the gauntlet and issues this challenge.

"Our goal is to make these five communities the five healthiest towns in the Midwest," he says. "This Foundation can be the 'game-changer' to accomplish this goal."

Published: Fri, Sep 3, 2010