Making a Lasting Impact Through Philanthropy
Some of the best ideas are born around a campfire. You’re talking with good friends when you start to build upon an idea that at first sounds a little wild, but you know there’s something there so you just can’t let it go.
That’s exactly how Brandon Gerardy, Ivy Rehab Regional Director, ended up co-founding a non-profit that’s been responsible for funding some pretty incredible philanthropic events and even providing a full-ride scholarship to a very deserving individual. But to get to that place we have to go back to where it all began.
In 2002 Brandon was a PT student working alongside fellow physical therapist Steve when they met a boy named Josh who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Josh would come in for therapy but end up making a life-long impact on everyone around him. Over the years the bond between these three grew so strong that Brandon and Steve felt compelled to do something really amazing for Josh – find a way to pay for his entire college education. They did this by participating in long-distance ultra canoe marathons. Through sponsorships and a lot of competing they reached their goal and it felt so amazing – they knew they couldn’t stop there.
“It was such a life-changing experience for us to be not only philanthropic but to provide an experience for someone that wouldn’t ultimately have been given the opportunity. Now we had to figure out how to zoom out on that and give more,” explains Brandon. “Over a campfire, we had a group of like-minded people that wanted to make this bigger and be more impactful. Our goal was to help other people do the same thing that we had done so they could have that same fulfilling experience that we’d been given.”
It was out of these campfire conversations that the Solstice Foundation was born. Brandon and Steve set out to secure foundation scholarship dollars to be spent solely on service projects that were coordinated by physical therapy students.
“Students came to us with really cool ideas and we would provide around $500 to fund these amazing service projects. While the money was helpful, that’s not really what it was all about,” explains Brandon. “The overarching goal was to help students develop this philanthropic way of thinking, to help mold them to do these things as a fundamental part of who they are. It ultimately affects the way they approach their patients and the communities in which they live.”
While Brandon felt really good about the work they were doing, the thing that surprised him most was the sense of community that was beginning to form. The first scholarship recipient, a student named Allyson, is now part of the Solstice Foundation board. She attends every single event the foundation hosts – a gesture that speaks volumes to Brandon. Lien, the second recipient impressed the scholarship committee with her character, strength, and clear plan to be both active and philanthropic. Lien planned to race a half marathon in Chicago and donate all $500 to St. Jude’s, in memory of her brother Bao.
“As I embark onto this next act of helping others, I now yearn to be the hope for a better tomorrow, to show people they can still smile, and to inspire others to do the same. Just as my brother Bao was for my family even after his last breath.” – Lien Tran
Lien prepared tirelessly for the race in Chicago, only to have it canceled due to COVID-19, but that didn’t stop the Solstice team. Volunteers gathered to organize the By My Side half marathon in Lien’s hometown.
“We saw Lien financially contribute in a way that was meaningful to her, and we saw her have a really special moment with her family – that’s what this is all about,” said Brandon. He goes on to explain, “it isn’t about the $500 that was donated to St. Jude’s in Lien’s name. It’s about the heart and the way that these individuals are moving forward and doing great things. These people are embracing a community of philanthropy and doing amazing things by providing opportunities that others may not have otherwise had.”
As word started to spread about the positive things the Solstice Foundation was doing they were able to secure additional funding, including a fully-funded 25-year scholarship with Grand Valley State University and the University of Michigan, and what’s even more incredible is that they’ve never asked for a dime. All the money they’ve received has come their way organically.
After seeing the impact the foundation was having on students, they began looking for ways to give back in an even bigger capacity. In 2021 the Solstice Foundation came together to present the $1000 Vaughn Philanthropy Award to one licensed physical therapist in Michigan who’s working on an inspiring project. This year’s first annual winner was Tegan Roobol, who spends the majority of her time working with students who have severe multiple impairments. This led her to develop the program Overcoming Obstacles: Adaptive Ninja & Climbing when she saw a need in her community.
With every project the team takes on, they have the opportunity to reach even more people in a meaningful and impactful way. Lives are being changed and with every step, the team has aspirations of casting a wider net and giving back even more.
Nearly two decades after Brandon met Josh in the PT clinic, the two are still fulfilling lofty goals together. By working with myTeam Triumph, a non-profit organization that allows people with disabilities to experience the thrill of crossing the finish line, Brandon and Josh formed a team to race the Grand Rapids half marathon. With Josh as the captain who would ride in the racing chariot, and the Solstice Foundation members playing the role of the “Angels” who would push him, they could not be stopped. While battling unforgiving weather the team crossed the finish line and Josh was hooked. They continued to race longer events but ultimately had one specific goal in mind – to be the first myTeam Triumph team to compete in the Boston Marathon. They qualified with ease for their division, but COVID-19 took center stage and the Boston Marathon was held virtually. But this setback wasn’t going to keep them down. Instead, the crew got together and created their own course. It was a 4.4-mile loop that they would run around 6 times. Dozens of people came out to cheer them on, taking turns pushing Josh in his chariot. It was a really fulfilling experience for everyone who participated and in the end, Josh got his medal. The team still has their sights set on racing in Boston so if all goes as planned, that’s where you’ll find the Solstice Foundation in 2022.
That’s the story of how a simple conversation around a campfire went on to touch so many lives. The impact has been felt, not only on our profession, but by the people who have made a difference, and relationships that have been built. The philanthropic seed has been planted and the Solstice Foundation thrives on watching it grow.
“We’re here to help motivate people to do bigger things and foster creative ways to make an impact. Lift. Others. Up. “ – Brandon Gerardy, Solstice Foundation co-founder and Regional Director at Ivy Rehab
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