Parkinson’s Research & Education with Van Andel Institute


Money I'm Home Podcast with special guest Sarah Rollman, Manager of Corporate and Community Engagement at Van Andel Institute.

Van Andel Institute’s Manager of Corporate and Community Engagement, Sarah Rollman, joins us to discuss the research into Parkinson’s and cancer occurring at the Van Andel Institute. Listen today and discover how VAI fights disease and sickness with your support!



00:07 Lynne Jarman-Johnson: Money, I’m Home! Well, come on in, I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union, and we are so excited to bring you information, facts, figures, research … Research, speaking of research, joining us today is Sarah Rollman. She is the Special Events Coordinator at Van Andel Institute. And I’ll tell you what, you, your entire organization is research-driven and amazing. We love to partner with you, Sarah. Thanks for being with us.

00:37 Sarah Rollman: Thanks for having me, I’m so excited to be here.

00:39 LJ: So we’ve known each other for years.

00:41 SR: A long time.

00:42 LJ: I know.

00:43 SR: A long time … I love it.

00:44 LJ: It’s great to have you sitting in the chair here, the hot seat.

00:47 SR: The hot seat, talking about all the good things. Thanks for having me.

00:51 LJ: So one of the things that we’re really thrilled about is the fact that there’s such a connection between our core charities, what we do with Consumers and our members, and Van Andel Institute. Tell us a little bit about that partnership.

01:08 SR: Absolutely, we are so pleased to have you as the title sponsor for our Consumers Credit Union Purple Community 5K. This is the third, fourth … Third, right?

01:19 LJ: Third.

01:20 SR: Third year of the partnership as title sponsor, and it’s just a great way to get everyone in the community out and running and for a good cause. All the proceeds go to cancer research, Parkinson’s disease research, and also education at the institute.

01:36 LJ: The registration is already open, so you can go online to consumerscu.org to get your team rocking and rolling. The one thing that I think that is essential for people to know, 100% of the proceeds for the Purple 5K and all of the events that we partner with …

01:54 SR: All the events.

01:56 LJ: That people from all over the world partner with, all of it goes to research.

02:00 SR: Goes directly to research, directly to the lab, so you’re not paying for our salaries, you’re not paying to keep the lights on, all of that is funded through the generous endowment by Jay and Betty Van Andel, which means that every dollar, every contribution makes such a difference.

02:15 LJ: So Carol and Dave Van Andel now are the stewards of the Van Andel Institute, bringing that vision back into our communities. One of the things that I love is the learnings and the education that is offered to the public about what’s essential for your mission.

02:37 SR: Yes. We actually started last year, we launched a public lecture series, which we have not typically done events that are open to the public in the institute. It’s a research facility, so it requires access and controls, but we worked with everyone in the building because it’s important for David and Carol and our researchers, and our chief scientific officer to get people in the building and get people familiar with what we’re doing. I think that’s one of our challenges is to kind of demystify research and what’s happening at the institute. So public lecture series launched, and the goal of that is to make science accessible to the general public. So anyone can register. We do four a year. Our first one’s coming up on March 10th, and our Chief Scientific Officer Peter Jones, is talking about cancer research trends, what’s kind of been happening in the last 10 years, what do we expect to see more of in the next 10 years.

03:37 SR: We also are doing one on Parkinson’s Disease in May, which that there’s such a great Parkinson’s community in West Michigan, that always has a great following. Fall is metabolism and obesity, talking about our metabolism group and this whole new collection of researchers that we brought into the building in the last two years, and then December is a focus on education. So all of those are free, open to the public, you can come, we make it really easy. There’s valet parking. We offer a box lunch, and in addition to that, what I think is most exciting, is we’re taking our Public Lecture Series show on the road in continuation.

04:16 LJ: You are?

04:17 SR: Yes, in continuation of this awesome partnership that we have with Consumers, we are bringing it to Kalamazoo.

04:24 LJ: So we are so excited. April 15th is the date, and oh my gosh, we got the lead scientist.

04:30 SR: Our chief scientific officer Peter Jones will be in Kalamazoo at your building, talking about trends in cancer research.

04:39 LJ: So that again will be a free public presentation. We want everybody to participate. So again, go to our website and Van Andel Institute, you’ll be able to see how you can register. When you talk about research, and if you’ve never walked through the halls of Van Andel Institute, I will tell you it’s jaw dropping because you see the scientists in action like they’re working right there …

05:06 SR: Right there in the lab …

05:07 LJ: In the labs, with the glass right between you.

05:10 SR: Looking at cells and cancer cells and multiplying and using reagents and activating things, and the amount of knowledge that walks around me, around others in the building is amazing. It’s truly amazing.

05:25 LJ: Now you coordinate the events. What I want everybody to understand too, is that, my goodness, this is worldwide, it is … we have researchers, scientists, but then the connection that happens to other institutions around the globe is incredible.

05:41 SR: We do, we have so many partnerships, we have … In Parkinson’s disease, we have a partnership with the Linked Clinical Trials, and that’s a group based out of the UK, and Patrik Brundin from the institute is also in partnership with Linked Clinical Trials, and the whole point of that is to identify drugs that have already been approved by the FDA, to pick a few, look at them and figure out which will help stop and slow the progressions of Parkinson’s disease, and they’ve made some great strides. I think they’re in Phase One and Phase Two clinical trials and in several of those, and just … this has happened in the past three years. So that’s a huge partnership, and it is … it’s worldwide.

06:25 LJ: So you, on a day-to-day basis, you have events that are not only local, we talked about the two that are close to our hearts, but you… it’s the Purple community, it’s the marathons that you’re involved in.

06:37 SR: There are so many opportunities to get involved. The website vai.org is a great place to take a peek. There’s a whole event section. We do have two marathon teams; one for Chicago. You can sign up and run the Chicago Marathon and raise money for Van Andel Institute, but it’s just … you become part of the community. Some of the runners are from West Michigan, but not all of them. We make it really fun. We have a charity cheer station on the course. We do a great dinner the night before, lots of pasta, everyone can carbo load. We just try and make the whole experience really, really great, and Chicago was nice ’cause it’s close to home. But then we also have a partnership with the New York Marathon, which is so cool because I was just there last week, and this year is the 50th anniversary of the New York Marathon.

07:27 LJ: Wow.

07:28 SR: So if you’ve ever thought about it, this is the year to run. There’s lots of extra incentives for runners.

07:35 LJ: Now, how do people find out … if someone’s truly interested in becoming a part of the New York Marathon …

07:43 SR: Right.

07:44 LJ: That’s huge. How do they do that?

07:44 SR: They can go to vai.org or purplecommunity.org. Purple Community is our grassroots fundraising arm, and all the information is there. They can just sign up. There’s a fundraising minimum. Chicago was $1,750. But we make it really easy. We provide tips and tricks and just kind of help guide you along the way to help fundraise for us. It’s basically just asking your family and friends to help support research, and we ask people to share their why. Why are you passionate about raising money for the Institute? The New York Marathon is a little bit high of a fee. It’s $3,000 minimum fundraising, but it’s totally worth it. And a lot of companies in the area have matching donations, so we’ve had a lot of employees run that work for local organizations, and then their company will match, and with a few other donations, they’re pretty much done with their fundraising.

08:36 LJ: That is exciting. What’s the favorite part of your day?

08:39 SR: Oh, I think that every day is different. There’s no typical day, and there’s so much variety, but also when you’re doing events, there is no … I always say there’s 26 letters in the alphabet, because there’s plan A, plan B, plan C, plan D …


08:53 LJ: Get all the way to Z and start again.

08:57 SR: Right [laughter] Always have eight versions of your plan. I like it that nothing is ever the same, even though the event structure might be the same for the 5K or the Couture for a Cure Fashion Show that Consumers has been involved with. We always try and tweak, and just make it the best experience for the guests that are coming and just to continue raising the bar on events and raising awareness for research.

09:25 LJ: When you think about all of the different people that you touch and the stories that you hear of successes, does one come to mind?

09:35 SR: Oh, there are so, so many good stories. Probably, I’ve seen people get involved who have lost parents, and I think of Tony W., who originally started Winterfest, which is our fundraiser for Parkinson’s disease. But he lost his father to Parkinson’s, and 15 years ago decided he was going to do this small reception for a few people when they had redone a floor of the pen club. And he wanted to do it in honor of Jay Van Andel and connected with David Van Andel, and it was just going be this one-time thing, and then it has grown into this signature fundraiser for Parkinson’s disease research. And he told me he was just so impacted by the disease taking his father and then had that connection with David Van Andel. And then we brought Dr. Patrik Brundin over to be our chief researcher in Parkinson’s disease, he, Dr. Brundin, also lost his father to Parkinson’s. So it’s very … I think once a disease impacts you, it’s very personal, and people use that for really motivation to raise money and share their story and just make an impact.

10:52 LJ: And when you look at Parkinson’s, as you just mentioned, the amazing research that’s being done, the eye-opening … like my mind, when I went to the public lecture series last year about Parkinson’s, I just didn’t realize how much is being done about the brain and about how it connects entirely to your body, and that you know. But truly where Parkinson’s, how close we are to really finding out why.

11:23 SR: Understanding more about it. Yeah. We had a major breakthrough in the end of 2018, that one of the discoveries discovered by one of our researchers, Dr. Viviane Labrie, that Parkinson’s might originate in the appendix. And that was just mind boggling.

11:42 LJ: Yes. Mind blowing. Mind blowing.

11:44 SR: And so now the question is, what’s next? We figured we have a link to that, we have a tie to that, but what does that mean, what can we uncover out of that? And so the research and the discovery just never stops.

12:00 LJ: One step, the next step, the next step.

12:01 SR: They’re always looking for the next thing. The next connector.

12:06 LJ: I’ll tell you, we love our partnership and we are very excited about, especially the public lecture series, in the sense that we’re also bringing it on the road. We really appreciate the fact that you see that more people in West Michigan also would love to be able to take part; they just might not be as close.

12:24 SR: Absolutely, and it’s so important for us to share the mission and make research accessible. It might not be super easy for everyone to understand at the highest levels, but we try with the public lecture series and taking it on the road, just how do we break the important things that we’re doing down into little bite-sized pieces for everyone to understand and maybe take something away from that and also have some hope. If you don’t have hope, you don’t have anything. So, that’s what we do.

13:00 LJ: Well, thank you for bringing us hope today, Sarah.

13:02 SR: Thank you.

13:04 LJ: Hey listen, we ask one important question at the end of all of our podcasts that are so important to all of us, and that is the wellness of our finances. And has there ever been a tip or anybody that said something to you that kind of clicked or rung a bell that you could share with us today that could help us all out?

13:22 SR: Sure, so my grandma was very savvy. She had six kids. She was a stay-at-home mom until she was in her 40s, and then she started her career working as an administrative officer at the courthouse, and so …

13:38 LJ: Here in West Michigan?

13:40 SR: In Wisconsin. I’m from Wisconsin.

13:42 LJ: In Wisconsin, okay.

13:43 SR: But she told me, you always have to pay yourself first like …

13:46 LJ: This is so cool; I’ve heard this. This is such a great concept.

13:50 SR: Start that savings account. Start a separate account before you even have an account; she would always put birthday money in cards, but there would be a separate bill. So there would be a 20 for whatever you wanted for birthday magic extravaganza, but then there was 10 that you couldn’t touch and you had to put in that savings, which when it came time for college, that was super helpful, or …

14:14 LJ: Here is my question. You’re like, “I’m not going to go against Grandma.” Grandma says, “You got to put the money away,” “Okay, I am not touching that.”


14:22 SR: Got to pay yourself first. And still to this day, there’s money that comes out of my check that I never even see, she said, “You’ll never even know it’s gone. You just put it right in that separate account.”

14:34 LJ: It’s an automatic savings plan. Just love it. Well, thank you so much for being with us today, Sarah.

14:39 SR: Thanks for having me.

14:40 LJ: Tell you what, that is a wonderful way to start saving if you haven’t started yet, and we sure can help you out at Consumers Credit Union. I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson. Money, I’m Home, from finance to fitness. Thank you so much, Aaron, for your production skills, your savvy, and we will join you next week with another leader. Another person will tell us all about the cool things happening in the Michigan area. And we hope you join us.

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