APTA Michigan Lines Blog Details

Lift. Others. Up.

The question was… How can we support leading PT students? Then, how can we support licensed physical therapists in Michigan that lead in the clinic AND in the community? How can we lift others up?

Our question all started with a canoe race. In 2008, a friend Brandon Gerardy (U of M DPT ’08) and I were racing the AuSable River Canoe Marathon. This is a 120 mile overnight canoe race in Northern Michigan that starts at 9pm in Grayling and ends in Oscoda the next afternoon. While preparing to race, I had a patient Josh who was born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy who I was treating in PT. At the time, Josh was preparing to attend college at KVCC. We thought… What if we raise $1 per mile as we race and use the money to help Josh pay for college? Josh was preparing to pursue an Associate’s degree at KVCC with a concentration in Video Game Design. So, we started a “Paddling For Josh” fundraiser with our racing. Our 120 mile canoe race was successful and Josh began college. We were paying for his books, transportation, and tuition with donations. Then, from 2008 to 2017, Josh continued to attend KVCC all while we continued to race ultra-marathons paying for his college. Josh graduated with his Associates degree April 30th 2017. I would venture this is the first time in history that anyone has ever paid for a college degree with canoe racing! This whole process of helping Josh was a big compass point for us. We had intended to help him, but along the way we gained perspective. I had not anticipated that I would grow from helping Josh. Then, after Josh graduated in 2017, we thought “What if instead of racing FOR Josh, we start racing WITH Josh? So, with race support from myTEAM TRIUMPH, we pushed Josh in the Grand Rapids Half Marathon in 2017. Josh said this went ‘too fast’ and wanted to do a longer race. Funny right?!? So, then we raced the Riverbank 25K with Josh as our Captain. Then, Josh set his sights on a bigger goal… a full marathon with a goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. So, the next year, Josh raced a 4 hour, 19 minute full marathon with a single pusher and qualified for Boston as a Duo Team! With the pandemic, Boston offered Josh the opportunity to race virtually to earn his medal. So, the PT community and the running community in West Michigan came together as Josh raced to earn his Boston Marathon medal!

This whole process of helping Josh was a big compass point for us. Our group was sitting around a bonfire in Traverse City and said “How can we give this feeling to other people? How cool is it that we can help a patient outside of the clinic, pay for his college, help him race marathons, support him in life, AND we can grow along the way!?! How can we facilitate this growth and this feeling of helping others that we had with helping Josh?” As we brainstormed, we realized that we couldn’t necessarily ‘give’ this feeling to people. If we would not have canoed for Josh and raced with Josh, we wouldn’t have had the appreciation of the journey of helping him. I had graduated Grand Valley’s PT program in 2000, but it was not until 2008 that we did the canoe race and became active in the community. Why did I wait 8 years? How can we facilitate this community impact in students 8-10 years before I was active? PT students would tell us “I would love to help somebody, but I do not have any extra money. I want to help others, but I do not know where to get started”. There were seven families camping and we all decided to contribute $100 to start our own scholarship. Our plan was to create a $500 annual scholarship for a Grand Valley PT student for a community impact project. We worked with Dan Vaughn (the DPT Program Chair at the time) to establish our fledgling scholarship at GVSU. Our plan was to offer $500 annually to a GVSU DPT student over the next 25 years to help PT students at our alma mater make their own community impact. We hoped this would facilitate the life enrichment we had experienced helping Josh. We wanted to create a ‘nudge’ to help leaders in the next generation of physical therapists. So, my wife Ryane Leppard, Brandon and Emily Gerardy, Adam and Kristen Beadenkopf from Kentwood PT, Mark and Angie Scarlato, Cailee Bartow, Dan Vaughn, and I established our “Solstice Scholarship” at GVSU. We envisioned that we would run this as a pay as we go scholarship… each year we would contribute our own $500-700, support the community outreach of a leading PT student with $500, and repeat that for 25 years. This was the initial plan.

The first year that our GVSU Solstice Scholarship was awarded, we had a phenomenal winner. Our selected winner, Ally, had overcome an eating disorder herself. When she interviewed for our scholarship, she presented a plan to organize a NEDA Walk and give the $500 we awarded to the National Eating Disorders Association to help those who were overcoming eating disorders. Ally’s event was a success and she was supported by her GVSU classmates/professors. We only had a couple hundred dollars left, but were excited to have supported a leading PT student. Our group was already looking forward to the next GVSU cohort. Then, the positives in our PT profession, in our community, and in social media began to emerge. Our race efforts with Josh and Ally’s community action led to a swell of grassroots support from professors, therapists, and community members. A GVSU professor sent us a check for $100. We received $200 from someone in Portland. A family member of our group donated $500 to pay for one scholarship. Then, a friend Diane with MS said “I can’t run, but when I watch you run with Josh I feel like I’m running TOO (here’s a much larger donation)”! This ripple effect continued to the point that we were able to establish our own Solstice Foundation fund at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. This is a managed fund that we can use to continually impact our PT profession and our community.

The following year in 2020, Dan Vaughn was preparing to retire as the GVSU DPT Department Chair. We were able to surprise Dan with a plan to establish the Vaughn Philanthropy Award in his honor. We would award $1,000 to a leading PT with a license in the State of Michigan. We hoped to support a PT that was active in the clinic AND in the community. Much like our Solstice Scholarship for DPT students, the Vaughn Award would allow a practicing PT to impact their own community. Our first Vaughn Philanthropy Award winner Tegan Roobol is a school system PT and an American Ninja Warrior. Per Tegan “The idea for Overcoming Obstacles Adaptive Ninja & Climbing started when I ran into one of my student’s sisters at the local ninja gym. I thought wouldn’t it be cool if she could experience the gym or participate somehow?” So, Tegan established her own 501c3 Overcoming Obstacles ‘To enrich and transform the lives of individuals with disabilities by providing them with opportunities to participate in adaptive sports in their community’. We were able to award Tegan the $1,000 to purchase equipment and to support her ninjas. In the legacy of Dan, she is giving others confidence in their own abilities. We plan to repeat this Vaughn Award every other year over the next 25 years.

The next year in 2021, we were able to expand our Solstice Scholarship to the University of Michigan. Two members of our foundation group had attended Michigan so this was the next logical step. We expanded our scholarship to Michigan with the same plan we had at GVSU. It was our plan to provide an annual scholarship to a deserving DPT student for 25 straight years. It was our idea to encourage 25 PT students to think outside of themselves while they are still in school. It was our goal to impact 25 local causes/organizations that the PT students select. It was our hope that these 25 different organizations then have immeasurable impacts in the community. Our first annual University of Michigan winners Kassidy and Ben both had the shared experience of losing a loved one to the tragedy of suicide. They wanted to work together to create an event that their family/friends/community could attend where they could realize that they are not alone and suicide is something that NEEDS to be talked about. Kassidy and Ben donated their $500 winnings to the Michigan Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and created a color run event on campus to support their family, friends, classmates, and community. Powerful. All the more impressive because they are second year DPT students creating this community activity! This is the exact purpose of our Solstice Scholarship… to support leaders in the next generation of PT and give them a boost while they are still in PT school.

Since our first GVSU winner in 2019, we have been able to support additional annual student community projects. In 2020, Lien Tran was able to run a ½ marathon in her brother’s memory and donate $500 to St Jude to thank them for the cancer care that her brother had received 20 years ago when she was four years old. In 2021, Hayley Hall donated her $500 to Miracle League in Grand Rapids and created a Miracle League Homerun Derby for local kids. In 2022, Katie Reed pushed her friend Savannah in a racing wheelchair in the SHE RUNS 5K and donated her $500 to myTEAM TRIUMPH. MTT is an athletic ride-along program created for children, teens, adults, and veterans who are disabled and would not normally be able to experience endurance events such as road races (also the same organization who we have raced with to support our man Josh!). Also, last year, our second Vaughn Philanthropy Award winner Amy Yorke, PT, PhD was awarded $1,000 for her plan to establish a Rock Steady Boxing program at U of M Heart to support Flint residents with Parkinson disease. Also, in 2022, our Solstice Scholarship was able to announce expansion to the DPT program at Western Michigan University for the next 10 years. Three of our foundation members live in Kalamazoo and I lecture annually for the WMU DPT program. So, once again, this was an organic expansion choice for our PT foundation.

Then, later in 2022, we were encouraged to submit an abstract for poster board consideration to the APTA Michigan Fall Conference. Our abstract titled “Transforming Society By Lifting Others Up: A Case Report on Philanthropy in Physical Therapy” was accepted to Fall Conference (and then later to Combined Sections in San Diego). So, this February 25th 2023, we presented our poster board at APTA CSM and won the Social Responsibility Award for the ‘Leadership & Innovation’ category at CSM! We were fortunate to be able to present at CSM, connect with many like-minded PT’s from across the Nation, and spread the word of what DPT students and licensed PT’s are achieving in Michigan.

This year, in 2023, we have been able to award our Fifth Annual Solstice Scholarship to Jordyn Bowman from the GVSU DPT program. Her plan was to donate her $500 to Guiding Light Mission in Grand Rapids. Her best friend lost her mother to substance abuse last summer. Jordyn was recently featured on the Guiding Light podcast, donated her winnings to Guiding Light to help those battling substance abuse regain their freedom, and will help support the Guiding Light 5K this October. Also, we were fortunate to be able to recently award our Second Annual University of Michigan Solstice Scholarship to Olivia Roe and Brooke Mazzolini. They both grew up playing sports and appreciate the ‘movement is medicine’ idea that our profession prides itself on. With the recent childhood obesity epidemic, they want to show kids that activity and movement can (and should) be fun. They plan to donate their $500 to Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village in Flint and create a field day for local kids. Then, this Fall, we look forward to interviewing our very first WMU DPT Solstice Scholarship cohort!

With all of this… Why “Solstice” Scholarship and Solstice Foundation? Well, originally, we were camping on the Summer Solstice as we brainstormed ‘How can we give this feeling to others?’. Also, synonyms for Solstice include elevation, rise, and turning point. We hope that the Solstice Scholarship can help serve as the elevation and the rise for future leaders to create their own ripple effect in our PT profession. We feel fortunate that from 2019 to 2023, we have grown from $0… to fully funded Solstice Scholarships with the GVSU/Michigan/WMU DPT programs, to the Vaughn Philanthropy Award for licensed PT’s, to our own Solstice Foundation fund for PT profession impact, to being recognized with the Social Responsibility Award at CSM… all from sitting around a bonfire on the Summer Solstice. We are flattered with the community support we have received for this PT advocacy and look forward to watching this outreach grow over the next 25 years. “Lifting Others Up” is central in our professional responsibility as physical therapists.


Stephen Leppard, PT, OMPT, CSCS is an outpatient, sports-medicine physical therapist in Kalamazoo. He graduated from the GVSU PT program in 2000 and completed his Residency Certificate in OMPT through Oakland University in 2005. Steve is the center manager at NovaCare Rehabilitation in Kalamazoo. He is the PT for Gazelle Sports and has practiced in the Kalamazoo community for the past 21 years. He enjoys running marathons/half-marathons with myTEAM TRIUMPH, canoeing, camping with friends, and hockey/soccer with their two boys. For more information please follow/message the Solstice Foundation, Solstice Scholarship, and Vaughn Philanthropy Award on Instagram and Facebook.




  1.  's Gravatar

    Thank you!

    | Jul 14, 2023 at 10:50 pm

    Thank you to APTA Michigan and Jill Norander for the request to do a blog write-up after our Solstice Foundation abstract presentation at CSM. We appreciate the opportunity. Lift. Others. Up.

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