Advocate with PR Connect

PR Connect logoMore than half of adults will experience a mental illness in their lifetime with 6% experiencing a serious mental illness. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., making it more common than homicide. Yet, mental illness remains in the shadows of personal and societal conversations. Knowing this, the Pine Rest Foundation worked with a group of young professionals to form PR Connect with one simple goal: get people talking in order to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Serving as an Advisory Board to the Pine Rest Foundation, PR Connect also puts ideas into action by raising awareness through face-to-face and social media engagement. Get involved in the dialogue. Attend an event. Become a member. Your voice is needed to provide support and encouragement for those in our communities needing behavioral health treatment.

Check back soon for more information on opportunities available for YOU to get involved in PR Connect!

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Meet PR Connect


Cassie Hall, M.S.
AmeriCorps VISTA Alum
West Michigan AmeriCorps Collaborative
PR Connect Board Co-Chair

Click here to connect with Cassie

Born and raised in Battle Creek, I am a lifelong Michigander. Though I love to travel and lived abroad for a short time, I have considered Grand Rapids my home since moving here in 2004. I have degrees in Psychology (BS) and Nonprofit Management (MS), with an emphasis on social media and online communities.

Since childhood, my family has encouraged me to be involved in community service work, and this has developed a strong passion for voluntarism and philanthropy. In addition to volunteering with many nonprofits in the Battle Creek and Grand Rapids areas, I have also served two terms as an AmeriCorps VISTA member and am currently serving on the Advisory Council of the West Michigan AmeriCorps Collaborative. I was a recipient of the Michigan Nonprofit Alliance’s “Leadership With Purpose” Award, 2015 cohort.

My family also has a history of mental health and substance abuse issues. This has made me keenly attuned to the greater need for mental health awareness, leading to reduced stigma. I also practice many self-care techniques. I am excited to be a part of PR Connect – to help break down stigma and to encourage good self-care throughout our community.

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Kayla McKnight, Executive Assistant
Mel Trotter Ministries
PR Connect Board Co-Chair

Click here to connect with Kayla

I currently work with Mel Trotter Ministries as the Executive Assistant to the CEO, Vice President of Development, and Board of Directors. I am originally from Saint Petersburg, Florida and moved to Michigan with my husband four years ago. My undergraduate studies are in Ministry with a minor Psychology. I plan to pursue a Master’s degree in the areas of Social Work and Psychology in the near future.

I am excited to serve on the Board of PR Connect because I am passionate about Pine Rest’s Mission to bring the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to those in need of behavioral health services in our community. My personal story is one that has benefited from behavioral health services. My hope is to come alongside of Pine Rest in support to help break the stigma of mental illness and to share God’s grace that offers hope and help to those in need.


Danielle Josephine DeWitt, Donor Relations and Stewardship Manager
Grand Valley State University

PR Connect Board Member
Click here to connect with Danielle.

I am currently the Donor Relations and Stewardship Manager at Grand Valley State University, making sure that each and every donor sees the impact of their gift and is thanked appropriately. I decided to get involved with PR Connect because I was treated by a therapist at Pine Rest in my young adult years, and this is an opportunity to give back and share their mission and message with the community. I can honestly say that Pine Rest saved my life and look forward to not only sharing Pine Rest’s mission and message with the community, but also letting people know it’s okay to ask for help when we need it.

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Michelle Harris, Digital Marketing Coordinator
Family Christian
PR Connect Board Member
Click here to connect with Michelle.

With an education and career in helping nonprofit organizations improve their marketing efforts, I’m passionate about raising awareness of causes that positively impact our community. Pine Rest does exactly this, and this is why I joined PR Connect. The services offered by Pine Rest have literally saved many lives. The education offered by Pine Rest has helped me learn more about mental health issues. The opportunities that the PR Connect board provides young professionals in our community is something I am proud to take part in. My hope is that by serving on the PR Connect board I can act as a resource to any friends and colleagues who may be struggling with their mental health.

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Valarie James, MSW, MPH
Medical Social Worker for Spectrum Health Big Rapids
PR Connect Board Member
Click here to connect with Valarie.

I am a recent graduate from Michigan State University with a dual Masters in Social Work and Public Health. I have a passion for working with individuals from underrepresented populations to become connected to resources to improve their overall wellbeing. I believe I can achieve this through community health outreach, advocacy and health promotion. I joined PR Connect because I want to increase awareness of mental health care and to promote the importance of utilizing community resources such as Pine Rest to become mentally healthy. I believe mental health illnesses impacts everyone regardless of background so therefore we should all become educated on this issue as a way to improve our community


Charles Kierpiec, Attorney
McShane & Bowie, LLC
PR Connect Board Member
Click here to connect with Chuck.

I am an attorney at the Grand Rapids law firm, McShane & Bowie, LLC, where I represent business clients contemplating or engaged in lawsuits. I want to devote significant time to serving the community, in addition to serving my firm and clients. I joined PR Connect to belong to an organization that is taking up the critical mission of promoting the importance of mental health care. I not only hope to promote the fantastic services that Pine Rest offers, but also advocate for public recognition that mental health care services are equal to other vital services that receive strong public support.

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Adam Kinder, Chief Financial Officer
Agility Health
PR Connect Board Member

Click here to connect with Adam.

I am the Chief Financial Officer at Agility Health, Inc., a physical rehabilitation services company headquartered in Grand Rapids, where I am actively involved in developing and refining the strategic direction and corporate-level decision making for the company, all of its subsidiaries, and nationwide operations. I believe in active engagement in community with others, which means engaging beyond just financially supporting organizations in our community that we have a passion for. Pine Rest is one of those organizations for me. Over the last several years, I’ve been fortunate to get to know some of the work that Pine Rest is doing, but am eager to learn more about Pine Rest and mental health in our community. I’m excited to join PR Connect and the opportunity it brings to engage our community in mental and behavioral health conversations and the work that Pine Rest has been doing for more than one hundred years. I’m passionate about advancing conversations around physical and financial access to care in our community and ensuring that Pine Rest and other mental health organizations continue to be assets for our community for many years to come.


Kelsey Lamb, MD
Psychiatric Resident
Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services
PR Connect Board Member
Click here to connect with Kelsey

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Kristin Long, Philanthropy Officer
Pine Rest Foundation
PR Connect Board Member 

Click here to connect with Kristin

As Philanthropy Officer at the Pine Rest Foundation, my service is to engage donors and friends of the Pine Rest Foundation in supporting and advancing the mission and vision of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. Through their time, talent, and treasure, I have the honor of working with these amazing individuals and organizations to help them achieve their philanthropic goals. Volunteering and giving back are core values that I hold very close – each of us has a personal responsibility to, in some capacity, serve others and our communities. I became involved with PR Connect because I feel that it’s critically important to promote awareness and advocate for mental and behavioral health issues, while at the same time breaking down the unfair stigmas and judgmental perceptions. I hope to serve as a resource and a positive example for others….sometimes we simply need the confidence and reassurance to know that there are safe and non-judgmental avenues through which to ask for and to receive help. If you are interested in learning more about PR Connect, please contact me – I would love to connect with you!

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Natishia (“Tasha”) Ledesma-Madrigal MSW
PR Connect Board Member
Click here to connect with Tasha.

I am currently a Youth and Family Therapist in Kent County. I graduated with my Masters of Social Work degree from Grand Valley State University. It is my passion to work with youth and to serve in my community. I was a foster parent and then was blessed with the ability to adopt a sibling group to add to my wonderful family. God gave me a gift to work and engage easily with others and the will and drive to help others. In doing this work you find you learn so much from the people that you help. Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services is an agency that serves the community in many different facets and it is a privilege to help spread the information about the many opportunities the agency provides. I believe in volunteer work and giving back to the community that helped me, the people who believed in me and one way of giving back is to help others connect with the services that Pine Rest has to offer. I believe in this organization and its mission. If we work together we can break down the stigma and stereotypes of mental illness and begin to build a society that networks to keep its people safe and makes other know that they have a purpose.

Julie Ann Mulder

Julie Ann Mulder, ECT & TMS Clinics
Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services
PR Connect Board Member; Chair of the Internal Awareness & Education Committee
Click here to connect with Julie Ann.

“Not only must we be good, but we must also be good for something”. Henry David Thoreau

My professional career in mental health spans 20+ years, and I have been blessed to serve at Pine Rest since 1998. My roles have at Pine Rest have included Charge Nurse, Manager of the Staff Development Department, and now as the Coordinator for TMS in the Neuromodulation Clinic. Educating future nurses about behavioral health is a passion I am also able to pursue through teaching psychiatric nursing part-time for several West Michigan nursing schools. PR Connect allows me to go one step further by expanding outreach to other healthcare professionals, individuals experiencing mental illness, their families, their friends, and the community. Education and awareness are crucial components in eliminating the pervasive stigma and stereotypes that people with mental illness are often still forced to endure. Ideally this awareness will be the impetus needed to begin to make changes in health policy, access to services, insurance coverage, and funding for research. Being invited to serve with PR Connect is truly an honor. I am looking forward to doing my part in raising awareness about issues surrounding mental health and being an agent for change.


Eric Ryan, Lead Client Technology Technician
Spectrum Health United and Kelsey Hospital
PR Connect Board Member
Click here to connect with Eric.

I am the Lead Client Technology Technician for Spectrum Health United and Kelsey Hospitals. Supporting two community hospitals, The Medical Group, and local offices, many hats are worn to support our customers which include staff, physicians, patients, and their families.

Being part of the PR Connect team is a blessing to me. I’m able to use my talents and work with others to help raise awareness of mental and behavioral health, remove the barriers in which stigmas are built, and bringing our communities together to understand the issues that sometimes tear us apart. I also look forward to helping the community find all that Pine Rest has to offer.


Jason Schemmel, Digital Marketer
Harper Collins Christian Publishing
PR Connect Board Member
Click here to connect with Jason

I am a Digital Marketer for Harper Collins Christian Publishing by day, and manage my business, ENTRPRSR, by night. I am a very empathetic person and I have always had a passion to help others. I want to help people realize and understand that mental health is just as, if not more important than, physical health. It’s not demeaning in any way to seek or ask for help. That is why I joined PR Connect. Being someone who has struggled with self-confidence and self-esteem, my goal is to bring awareness to the fact that it’s okay to reach out to others/professionals/counselors, that you don’t have to do it alone.

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Abigayle Sladick, Director of Community Relations
Mel Trotter Ministries
PR Connect Board Member

Click here to connect with Abbey

I believe nearly every human can define their life’s purpose with a single word. Mine is “service.” I focus my time, talent and financial support in three main areas: Christian faith-based, education and health. Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services is an organization that fulfills all of these areas, and therefore it has been a calling to dedicate myself to spreading the good news about the services and programs offered at Pine Rest. I am one of the founding members of PR Connect and currently a Co-Chair, working alongside a group of inspiring, creative and motivating young professionals. Each of us has our own story about how mental/behavioral health has impacted us personally. We believe the more we share our stories and the stories of the survivors in our community, the sooner we begin to heal. If you’re interested in getting involved with PR Connect, please contact me. I’d love to meet with you!


Amanda Wirth, Attorney
Van Essen and Associates PLLC
PR Connect Board Member
Click here to connect with Amanda.

I am the founder of Van Essen and Associates PLLC, a small law firm in Hudsonville, MI and a First Lieutenant in the JAG Corp of the Michigan National Guard Reserves. I joined PR Connect because of my passion for advocating for increased access to mental health treatment and improving the public perception of mental illness. I believe improving public awareness, perception is crucial to be able to change public policy and improve both access to care, and treatment options for those in need.