The Southwestern Michigan Association of REALTORS® (SWMAR) recently celebrated their first annual holiday luncheon and fundraising auction. Suitcases for Kids has been the Association’s charity of choice for fourteen years. This program helps foster children in Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties and has been a heartfelt priority for REALTORS and ancillary service members of the Association.

Association members knew there were other children in need. So instead of just one children’s charity, they added the President’s Choice Charity to the event.

Mark VanDusen, 2019 President of the Association, selected Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan (RMHWM) as the President's charity.

Members, seeing the perfect fit to fulfill their goal of giving back to their communities, eagerly participated and challenged each other during the silent and live auctions for both charities. By the end of the luncheon, the total raised was $29,740.

VanDusen chose Ronald McDonald House based on personal experience. “In 1988, the RMH in Indianapolis helped my family in the time of need while my youngest son was at Riley's Children's Hospital for heart surgery. I felt it was important that if we were going to give to a charity, it should be one that helps families in the areas we live and work. The Ronald McDonald Houses run on charitable donations, volunteer help, and grants. They provide a place for families to stay that have children age 18 or less in one of the hospitals located in the Grand Rapids area. Families are provided rooms, transportation, meals, laundry, and much more at no cost.”

“Families that stay there become friends and sometimes become a bigger family with the others that share the same heartaches others do. By families being able to stay at the RMHWM, they can focus on what is most important that would be their child in the hospital, they don't have to worry about fixing meals or worry about how they will afford a place to stay while their child is in the hospital,” continued VanDusen.

To this day, VanDusen beams with pride. “I'm happy that I was able to name the charity and that we as REALTORS of the Southwestern Michigan Association of REALTORS were able to help the RMHWM. I want to say that as the 2019 President, I couldn't be any prouder of the members of our association who truly dug deep in their pockets and gave from their hearts to help both charities the Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan and the Suitcases for Kids. Ellen Carpenter RMHWM Executive Director was overwhelmed with joy on what she experienced at our holiday auction but even more so when we presented her with the check of $14,920,”

Throughout the year, REALTORS maintain their challenge to help foster children. Becoming a foster kid and staying in foster care is a sad and lonely time for any child. Among the many facts that REALTORS have learned is that most children in foster care carry their belongings in black garbage bags when moved to foster care, and each child averages seven moves while in foster care. The Association’s Suitcases for Kids Committee collected new backpacks and numerous personal items during August and September from donation boxes placed in real estate offices throughout the area. They also raised $14,820 in cash donations at the Association holiday luncheon to help Berrien, Van Buren, and Cass Counties Foster Children.

This fundraiser benefits local foster children under the supervision of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in each county. Many of the children have very little or no personal items that they can take with them when they are moved into foster care. So the new backpacks, new clothing, and personal healthcare items make a huge impact during a sad and confusing time for foster children.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services directors for all three counties thanked the REALTORS and other fundraiser participants for their support and gave insight into what the program means to them personally and for the children under their supervision.

Stephanie De Groff, Van Buren County Department of Health and Human Services, thanked the association for their support. “Words cannot express how much your tireless gathering of goods and money has meant to the foster children of Van Buren County. With your generous contributions, we have been able to purchase new sports shoes for kids, beds, trips to camps, dance classes, and make some wishes come true. These items have meant so much to our kids as they haven’t had the ability to do them before. We truly appreciate all of your support.”

Mindy Dinges, Cass County DHHS, stated, “The donations we received will allow the children we work with an opportunity to participate in age-appropriate activities with their peers. Some of these activities include after school events, sports, music programs, and camps. These activities can help make a positive difference to children who are going through a stressful situation.”

The Suitcases for Kids committee members included Angela Nutto (Chair), Chelley Bussey, Kim O’Donoghue, and Dodie VanDyke.

The 2019 Holiday Fundraiser Committee included Karen Snyder (Chair), Tammy Anders, Lori Bennett, Karin Buda, Carolee Dalrymple, Melannie Hay, Adam Hooten, Marilyn Lomonaco, Angela Nutto, Mark VanDusen, Mary Watkins, Sherri Hausmann, and Stephany Kohles. 

All committee members are REALTORS or Affiliate Members of Southwestern Michigan Association of REALTORS®.


The Southwestern Michigan Association of REALTORS®, Inc. is a professional trade association for real estate licensees who are members of the National Association of REALTORS® and ancillary service providers for the real estate industry in Allegan, Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties. The Association can be contacted at 269-983-6375 or through their website at www.swmar.com.

Suitcases For Kids was started in 1995 by a ten-year-old, Aubyn Burnside, after learning that the average child in foster care moves three to four times and traditionally carries his/her personal belongings from home to home in black garbage bags. This nonprofit international program has spread throughout the U.S. as well as nine foreign countries.

Since 1974, Ronald McDonald House Charity has helped address these needs every day, with 536,213 volunteers, our connections with medical communities around the world, partnerships with respected companies, and generous donors. The mission of RMHC is to create, find, and support programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children and their families. RMHC has local Chapters in 65 countries. For contact information, visit https://www.rmhc.org.