Time, talent and treasure: Empowering philanthropy through VAI’s JBoard Ambassadors

For those looking to make an impact in their community, getting started can be an intimidating task. There are countless entities looking for support, and even when one chooses a cause, there’s an additional challenge of choosing the best way to contribute. For Rachel Mraz, it comes down to finding your strengths.

“You can give your time, talent or treasure,“ Mraz said. “Some lucky people are able to contribute from all three, but you only need to pick one to make an impact.”

Mraz is a member of Van Andel Institute’s JBoard Ambassadors, a group she co-chairs with Blake Crabb. Together, they lead a network of young professionals dedicated to VAI’s mission in science and education. They believe JBoard is more than a way to meet some of the brightest young minds in the region — it’s a community looking to make a real difference close to home.

“You can find all kinds of ways to get involved, and there are great organizations out there but, for so many of us, cancer, Parkinson’s, and other diseases are deeply personal,” Crabb said. “To have a place right here, in our backyard, researching the kinds of cancer our families and friends have experienced — it’s inspiring.”

As co-chairs, Crabb and Mraz want JBoard members to gain a real passion for the science they’re supporting. Research can be intimidating, Crabb said, but JBoard members can meet the scientists, ask questions and see there’s a common goal to improve human health. It’s a mutual growth, one that fuels a greater understanding of the science underway at the Institute, while also showcasing how JBoard Ambassadors can play a role.

Related: Learn more about VAI’s JBoard Ambassadors

“We’re lucky enough to not just peek behind the curtain, but fully get back there and meet the people making a difference,” Mraz said. “Our events are fun and there’s great food and drinks, but they’re built around science and education. The best part is always meeting the scientists, educators, lab heads — they’re all incredibly passionate, and it’s contagious.”

Under Mraz and Crabb’s leadership, JBoard has grown to host its own signature event, Around the World, along with other JBoard-exclusive festivities. There’s a real momentum, Mraz said, and the focus is on enticing more young professionals to join.

“We’ve got the events, science and fun nailed down,” Mraz said, “The next step is chasing that next level, bringing in even more people and elevating our impact.”

They hope that growth can be magnetic, attracting not only new JBoard members, but an increased positive spotlight for VAI and Grand Rapids.

“The Institute has been a force in diversifying our community and bringing recognition to the city,” Crabb said. “The Institute could have gone anywhere, but they chose to stay here, creating a tremendous positive impact for Grand Rapids. Now it’s up to us to magnify the impact, through the JBoard and the Institute at large, to keep pushing forward together.”