Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan (PPWNM) is celebrating a half-century of service this year. Like their 25th anniversary celebration, they have some big-time events — past and planned — to recognize their achievements and to pump even more motivation into their supporters to accomplish future goals. This years events include:
- A 50th Anniversary luncheon at Meijer
Gardens. Held on May 6, the event’s speaker lineup included PPWNM President Katherine Humphrey, and a keynote speaker from the national front, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) President Cecile Richards.
- Culmination of StandingTall, a 3-year capital campaign that exceeded its $3 million goal by raising over $4 million. The funds are being used for facility renovations, technology upgrades, and for an endowment fund to ensure sustainability for those who depend on Planned Parenthood’s services.
- A ribbon cutting ceremony and open house in the Fall to celebrate a building renovation to the tune of $2 million at the Grand Rapids’ Cherry St location
To provide a glimpse of how far planned parenting has come, birth control was not even legal for unmarried women in 1964 when Planned Parenthood’s grass roots efforts began. It wasn’t even legal for married women in all 50 states. As a result, it was common for women to have 10 or more children in their lifetime. Following are some other major milestones in Planned Parenthood’s history.
1964: With the goal of helping low-income women access family planning services, pioneers Mary Kindle (Mrs. Thomas Kindel) and Helen Martin (Mrs. John Martin) worked feverishly to coordinate meetings and community forums, eventually founding Planned Parenthood Association of Kent County (PPAKC). Mrs. H. B. Shaine was its first board president. Planned Parenthood founders Mary Kindle, H.B. Shaine, Helen Martin This landmark event required coordination and participation by numerous established organizations and community leaders. United Community Services (now United Way), Detroit Planned Parenthood, Michigan Department of Public Health, Kent County Health Department, Senior Minister Duncan Littlefair (Fountain Street Church) and Dr. James Riekse, M.D. were some of the key organizations or leaders involved. Outreach back then was not privy to the use of today’s technology and speed to deliver the message. Instead, supporters spread the word going door to door, established mobile work units to visit workplaces, promoted their mission on college campuses, and intercepted moms in the hospital shortly after delivery. It was truly a major effort.
1965: The first Planned Parenthood center opened, located at 50 Ransom NE. The center held evening hours only, since it was used as a medical facility during the day. It was typical to see 80 women waiting in line outside to access their services. A second clinic opened that same year at 917 Jefferson SE.
Continuing Years: Numerous developments took place over the years, including moves, expansions, locating clinics on college campuses, and closings of clinics as well. Some highlights, lowlights, and major developments during these years include:
- 1976 – First Lady Betty Ford served as honorary chairwoman for the local fund drive. The drive surpassed its goal of $67,000.
- 1980 – A major expansion added three more counties — Lake, Newaygo, and Oceana — to the three counties already covered (Ottawa, Mecosta and Kent). This brought their number of centers to a whopping 86.
- 1989 – 25th anniversary celebration along with a major capital campaign resulted in renovation of their Cherry St. Building — the same one that is being renovated once again for their 50th anniversary.
- 2002 – “Gimme Some Sugar” dessert auction for LGBT youth. Grand Rapids is one of the first cities of its size to have had an ordinance outlawing discrimination against LGBT, which helped ensure the success of this well-received event.
- 2007 – Planned Parenthood of West Michigan merged with Planned Parenthood of Northern Michigan to become what it is known as today: Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan (PPWNM). Their area covers 52 counties.
- 2007 – A major government funding cut resulted in closing numerous facilities including Grand Rapids, Muskegon, and Mt. Pleasant. Both the Oceana, and Newaygo Health centers also closed due to the Title 10 funding reduction. Despite these setbacks, the merger is what allowed many of the health centers to remain open. By consolidating expenses, operating only one board instead of two, and lowering overhead with volume purchases, PPWNM continued on.
- 2011 – A threatened government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding of $300 million per year. The tactic did not succeed, but was a hard fought issue.
Future Challenges Julie McKeiver, Communications Manager at PPWNM, had a laundry list of challenges she sees in the coming years:
- Electronic health records – cost and privacy issues
- Complacency of previous generations – Once Planned Parenthood became a success, women started taking it for granted and many stopped or slowed their efforts. The 2007 reduced funding wake-up call, followed by the 2011 threat has renewed the need for more participation
- The political climate – especially difficult when conservatives are not in office since their strategies to win the next election often attack Planned Parenthood initiatives
- Affordable Care Act – getting the word out that Planned Parenthood accepts insurance and offers a top quality standard of care. They also go out of their way to help people not only with medical issues, but also with life issues that affect their medical health.
“There will always be opposition,” according to McKeiver. “I sometimes question why we must fight so hard in this enlightened age though.”
Educate – Advocate – Provide Health Care
With a primary focus on prevention of unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases, breast cancer, and other women’s sexual health issues, the PPWNM of today is targeting teens to educate, advocate and remove barriers to health care. Considering the past political climate, they have their work cut out for them. As Cecile Richards mentioned in her keynote, “I believe we will live to see the day when women’s health is no longer a political issue … but it’s been a really tough time.” She later added words of encouragement, particularly in reference to Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan, “For fifty years, you have been helping women plan their lives and follow their dreams. Today let’s launch the next 50!”