AARP Michigan announced this week two major annual awards to extraordinary volunteers, one presented to a DeWitt church whose parishioners wiped out medical debt for thousands of low-income Mid-Michigan residents, and another to a couple who stepped in and saved a food distribution house in Flint.
The Stephen J. Gools Award for Social Change was presented to Northpointe Community Church of DeWitt. This award is named for AARP Michigan’s former state director, who served for a dozen years with deep passion and commitment before passing away in 2011. It goes to an individual, couple, group or non-profit organization that has significantly contributed to positive social change in Michigan.
Winner of the Andrus Award this year is a couple, Howard and Rochelle Thompson of Grand Blanc. The award is named for AARP Founder Ethel Percy Andrus and honors outstanding individuals who share their experience, talent, and skills to enrich the lives of their senior community members.
The Northpointe congregation did an extraordinary thing for 3,800 families in the Mid-Michigan area. They partnered with RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based nonprofit and together, they are erasing $3.8 million in medical debt for those families. They’re doing this by purchasing the debt portfolios for a fraction of the amount owed. That includes families in Clinton County, Grand Ledge, Laingsburg, DeWitt Township and part of north Lansing.
In December, the beneficiaries received a letter during the holiday season that said: “We are pleased to inform you that you no longer owe the balance on this medical debt. The debt has been canceled and abolished with funds donated by Northpointe Community Church. This is a no-strings-attached gift.”
“As a church to be able with all kinds of different families to bring hope to people who were desperate was such a huge deal, and we’re so grateful God could use us that way,” said Rick Ruble, Pastor of Northpointe Community Church.
According to the person who nominated the Thompsons for the Andrus Award, Howard and Rochelle Thompson “have servant hearts that inspired them to step in and supervise the Food Storehouse at Riverside Tabernacle in Flint, when the gentleman who initiated the program 20 years ago retired.”
The Food Storehouse serves some 500 persons every Tuesday. That number can double during holidays. It takes 2 full days to prepare for 30 volunteers to gather, stack, box, and deliver this food.
“It is such a blessing to us each week, and we have the most wonderful volunteer staff,” Rochelle Thompson said.
Howard is a retired General Motors employee. Rochelle is a retired public school teacher. This couple has put public and missionary service before personal privilege for years.
On Mondays and Tuesdays when the Thompsons were not at Riverside, they were in places like Haiti helping build a water filtration system; assisting in Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery effort; joining a crew to build a church in Peru; or accompanying their son, an ophthalmologist, who performs cataract and cornea surgery in third world countries.
And in the spirit of voter engagement, another activity close to AARP’s heart, the Thompsons belong to the League of Women Voters in Flint and they truly enjoy going into the high school in their community to register senior students to vote