AGH Recognizes Three Extraordinary Women in the Community at Girls’ Night Out
During its Girls’ Night Out event on Thursday, October 19, Allegan General Hospital (AGH) and the AGH Foundation recognized Jillian LaJoice, Ann Chestnut and Honorable Margaret Zuzich Bakker with its 7th Annual Spirit of Women Awards.
Jillian LaJoice of Allegan was nominated by her middle school English teacher Mrs. Becky Calvert.
Jillian is currently a freshman at Allegan High School. However, when she was in 7th grade, her English class received a challenge from their teacher Mrs. Calvert to make not only the school but the community a better place.
Jillian took this challenge to heart and came up with the idea of writing inspirational notes and posting them on every student’s locker. She gathered a handful of friends and in one day put up over 700 sticky notes at L.E. White Middle School with sayings such as “Your smile lights up the room,” “Always believe in yourself,” or “Don’t let the little things stress you out.”
According to Mrs. Calvert, “the buzz in the hallways, the smiles on students’ faces, and the positive change was in the atmosphere. Some students were so touched, they were moved to tears. Other students kept their sticky notes through the next school year.” Her act of kindness remained anonymous. She never sought any credit.
Instead, she spoke to Mrs. Calvert to see how she could continue to make a positive difference in the school and the community. As a result, during the 2016-2017 school year, Tigers Unite, a student-driven positive impact club was born. Over 60 students signed up for the club, far surpassing Jillian’s expectations.
Over the course of the school year, members of Tigers Unite undertook many different projects. They researched and shared weekly motivational videos to students and staff. They took the inspirational sticky note concept to the elementary schools, and in one day they put inspirational and positive notes on all of the student lockers at all four elementary schools. The team also arranged for Kinetic Affect (a motivational speaking group) to come and do an anti-bullying program for the entire middle school.
Jillian and the club wanted to do more to impact the community. Jillian arranged for the Club to go to Ely Manor to visit with patients during the holidays and hang snowflakes that they made throughout the facility. They then worked hard to raise money to purchase 160 carnations. They attached inspirational notes to each carnation and distributed the flowers to nurses, doctors, staff and patients at Allegan General Hospital, spreading kindness and positivity, one smile at a time.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier,” said Jillian. “It is great to know I have helped to make this positive change in not only in my school but also in the community. This is a group effort; it isn’t just one person.”
Jillian is hoping to start a Tigers Unite club in the high school too.
“Jillian’s kindness and compassion have inspired many to be better teachers, students, parents and community members,” said Mrs. Calvert.
Our second 2017 Spirit of Women Award winner is Ann Chestnut of Allegan. Ann was nominated by her friend and fellow volunteer at the First Congregational Church (FCC) Food Mission, Cindy Thiele. Ann accepted her Spirit award on behalf of all of the volunteers who make the FCC Food Mission program a success.
The FCC Food Mission is a 100% volunteer organization. They provide healthy free meals each Thursday night, feeding approximately 900 – 1,000 people. They also organize a weekend lunch backpack program, which prepares 400 backpack meals for Allegan Public School students. They also house a food warehouse program that makes food and other supplies available to food pantries and community kitchens in four surrounding counties.
Ann has been volunteering at the food mission for over nine years and her volunteer duties have greatly expanded. She has written a book of poems to help raise funds for the FCC Mission programs. The book of poems can be purchased for $10 and over fifty percent of book proceeds go back to the program. You can learn about volunteer opportunities by emailing Lydia Walsh at Lydia@VMS-online.com . Donations can be made to The FCC Mission Program at 323 Cutler St. Allegan, MI 49010 or by calling the office at (269) 673-3139.
Honorable Margaret Zuzich Bakker
The third 2017 Spirit of Women Award Winner is the Honorable Margaret Zuzich Bakker. Judge Bakker, or Marge as many know her, was nominated by Dawn Sherman.
Advocacy was something Marge witnessed and learned firsthand as a child. Her two brothers were both born with severe developmental disabilities; one passed away in his teens and the other is 69 years old, living in an adult group home near Romeo.
Marge’s mother was her role model. She watched her mother become her brother’s biggest advocate. Legal advocacy for people with disabilities was something Marge’s mother was very passionate about. The actions of Marge’s mother had a direct impact on Marge’s future plans and passions in life - to ultimately help people with disabilities and those in need.
Marge graduated from Michigan State University in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, then attended law school at Detroit College of Law, graduating in 1978. While attending law school, Marge was the victim of rape and robbery. She had to testify at trial and her perpetrator is still in prison 40 years later. It was this occurrence, this life altering incident, that sparked a light for Marge. She realized that victims need a stronger support system around them. Victims need a louder voice. She spent the next 28 years as a prosecutor helping victims find their voice.
As noted in her nomination by Dawn Sherman, Marge is a founding member of Sylvia’s Place, Allegan County’s shelter and service provider for victims of domestic violence.
She is considered a “trailblazer” amongst women practicing law here locally. Marge was the first female attorney in the Allegan County Prosecutor’s Office, the first female Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, and she was the first female Circuit Court Judge in Allegan County, a position she has held since January 1, 2011, at which time she was also appointed Chief Judge of the Circuit Court by the Michigan Supreme Court.
When asked “what motivates you to make your community a better place,” Marge responded, “service; our community can be better and it should be. There are so many needs in our community and the solutions are there, we just need the right people to be the sparkplug for ongoing energy in the community to get the solutions in place.”
Marge’s service and volunteerism also include current and past board memberships with Wings of Hope Hospice, Disability Network Lakeshore, and Safe Harbor Children’s Advocacy Center. Marge is also the founder and current board member for the Allegan County Legal Assistance Center, a grant- and donation-funded initiative and non-profit corporation specifically targeting Allegan County residents who need assistance with the legal process but cannot afford an attorney.
“Spirit of Women Awards were designed to celebrate the accomplishments, achievements, and “spirit” of girls and women in our region,” said Jennifer Dentler, AGH Spirit of Women Coordinator. “It’s an awards program for the unsung heroine of everyday life, someone who has made a significant difference in the life of an individual or the community. We received many amazing nominations and it was not an easy decision for our selection committee to make. We sure have a lot of exceptional ladies in the area.”
Allegan General Hospital is a community hospital that focuses on always providing exceptional, compassionate and personalized healthcare for the community it serves. Allegan General Hospital provides a wide range of healthcare services, including bariatrics, surgery, sleep center, emergency, physical rehabilitation and mental health. For more information about the hospital and its Spirit of Women program, visit www.allegangeneral.org.