By Kaye Bennett
A new Portage facility for Family & Children Services (F&CS) will make it easier for South County families to get help for children, teens and adults dealing with trauma, anxiety and abuse.
Located at 1302 W. Milham Ave. in Portage, the building was made possible by a gift from Charles and Lynn Zhang in 2015. The agency’s main offices are located on Lake Street in Kalamazoo.
Counseling services will be offered at the Portage location, says Diane Marquess, director of Behavioral Health Services at F&CS. A special interest will be working with schools and businesses in the Portage, Mattawan, Gull Lake, Vicksburg and Schoolcraft communities to identify adults, children and teens who need counseling support. Marquess says that the agency plans to reach out to the community to help better identify needs in these areas. Therapy and support will be available for anyone who has experienced trauma or anxiety. Couples counseling is also available.
Melissa Wilson, a school psychologist at Sunset Lake and Indian Lake elementary schools in Vicksburg, says that school counselors in the district have always had a good relationship with F&CS and often make referrals to that organization when students need counseling or therapy. “Many families we serve have transportation issues,” she says, “so a facility located closer to South County will help remove one of the barriers to meeting their needs.”
It’s all about families, says Lynn Zhang, explaining the decision she and her husband Charles made in early 2015 to donate the original headquarters of Zhang Financial to the agency.
After the Zhangs’ wealth management business had grown to the point where the 3,000-square-foot building they had designed and built in 2000 no longer met their needs, they moved to a new headquarters, three times as big, located just a few blocks away on the corner of Milham and Oakland Drive. But they pondered what to do with the old building. It was so dear to them that, according to Lynn Zhang, it felt like a member of the family.
“People approached us about buying it,” says her husband. “But it was hard to put a price tag on something that was so sentimental to us.” Then, speaking with friends on the board of F&CS, Lynn says she and her husband sensed a good match. The agency, the Zhangs learned, has been improving life for people struggling with poverty, violence, abuse, and mental and emotional challenges since 1903. Its 200 full-time staff members provide services in the areas of child welfare (including foster care and adoption), behavioral health (including mobile crisis response), and youth development to approximately 9,000 people a year, primarily in Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties. In addition, the Zhangs had friends whose children had been adopted through the agency, so they could see for themselves the long-term value F&CS has for families.
Rosemary Gardiner, F&CS’s chief executive officer, says she was thrilled when the Zhangs approached her to explore the idea. “We had been hoping to offer services in a location that would be more easily accessible to Portage and the South County communities, but we would never have been able to afford a building without a capital campaign.”
F&CS at the same time was conducting a $5.1 million campaign to expand its Lake Street campus to include a family visitation and learning center, a respite youth activity center, and an enhanced counseling center. A second capital campaign, she says, would have been far in the future. The Zhangs’ gift, however, made it possible for the agency to quickly realize its expansion goal.
Charles and Lynn Zhang have a long history of philanthropy, including major gifts to Western Michigan University, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Columbia University and a variety of local recipients, including the Stuhlberg Competition, Portage Northern and Portage Central High Schools, the Kalamazoo Male Chorus, Miller Auditorium, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, the Grand Rapids Symphony and Ministry with Community. But the gift of the Zhangs’ original business home to an agency that they care about and whose work they respect so highly is, says Gardiner, “the ultimate gift.”
Melissa Wilson adds, “What a great opportunity for communities in southern Kalamazoo County! On behalf of our community, we thank the Zhang family and Family & Children Services for their ongoing commitment to our community of families.”