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EGR’s Community Giving Big Bear Hug Through Hearts of Gold

This year’s annual East Grand Rapids Hearts of Gold community effort honors two men who died too young, yet their legacy lives on through giving.

Each year, East Grand Rapids Public Schools raise money for a cause through Hearts of Gold, an effort which began in 2009 when the EGR football team wanted to  make a difference in memory of EGR graduate Reid VanGelderen who passed away from childhood cancer.

This year, proceeds raised during district-wide events at the Friday, Oct. 14 Pioneers football game against Caledonia High School will go to Billy Bear Hug, The William B. Wondergem  Foundation for Children, a Grand Rapids-based non-profit organization.

Billy Bear Hug was started in honor of William “Billy” Wondergem, who died unexpectedly in his sleep at age 24. Wondergem planned to become a pediatric oncologist, and worked as a research technician at Van Andel Institute on cancer research when he discovered a gene that could change the way kidney cancer was diagnosed.

His brother, Charlie Wondergem and longtime friend Matt French, started Billy Bear Hug. Through the organization, people can donate teddy bears as a gift of comfort for West Michigan children who have terminal illnesses.

For Hearts of Gold, people can purchase T-shirts, hats, bears, and jerseys at all East Grand Rapids schools and at at the EGR Spirit Shop at East Grand Rapids High School, 2211 Lake Drive SE.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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