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Community Non-Profits Join Forces for Low Vision, Blindness Services

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Serving the West Michigan community for 106 years, staff members at the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired have improved life for thousands of children and adults who have low vision or blindness. Determined to design the future so ABVI could grow its programs and services, leaders looked to affiliate with an organization with similar values, rehabilitation expertise and a heart to serve. Their solution was only blocks away.

The Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired becomes an independent subsidiary of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital on Jan. 1. It’s a coming together of two non-profit organizations with missions to restore hope and maintain independence for those they serve. Joining forces means offerings at both organizations will be enhanced.

ABVI Executive Director Richard Stevens is retiring after more than 17 years of leading the organization. Marcus Manders is a Mary Free Bed Hospital leader who will assume operational leadership of ABVI.

Plans for ABVI include:

  • Expanding the scope of services offered
  • Enhancing coordination of services for ABVI clients and Mary Free Bed patients
  • Increasing the geographic footprint to serve more people
  • Educating healthcare providers about programs and services available
  • Enriching collaboration with referring clinicians and organizations.


Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

  •  Clients
    • 937 clients served between October 2018 and September 2019
    • 504 clients evaluated in outreach screenings
    • About 10% are blind and 90% have varying degrees of vision impairments
    • Two-thirds are 70 years or older
  • Outcomes
    • 95% success rate
    • Metric = Ability to maintain or improve independence after services
  • Areas served
    • 13 West Michigan counties: Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Osceola, Ottawa

Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital

Mary Free Bed is the most comprehensive rehabilitation provider in Michigan and one of the largest in the United States. Mary Free Bed has 167 inpatient beds on the main Grand Rapids campus and specialized outpatient programs around the state. More than 30 board-certified rehabilitation doctors are on staff.  Specialized services such as assistive technology, Driver’s Rehabilitation and Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports are also offered.

The Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Network was created in 2011 and now consists of 36 general acute care hospitals in Michigan.

Historical similarities

Both organizations have more for more than a century served people with disabilities using therapeutic interventions and specialized technology. They were both also founded by forward-thinking women who were dedicated to making life better for others and helping society understand that people with disabilities are valuable and engaged citizens.

  • Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Founded by Roberta Griffith, who lost her sight as a child. She is believed to be the first blind woman in the United States to graduate from a school for sighted students. She completed her studies at the Women’s College of Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland) in three years, instead of four.

Roberta had a passion to ensure persons who were blind of visually impaired had the skills to become employed. She also worked with Helen Keller to standardize braille code throughout the nation.

  • Mary Free Bed

Founded by a small group of women who sought to help people who couldn’t afford health care. They passed around a little black purse asking anyone who knew someone named Mary, the most popular female name of the day, to donate 10 cents. They raised enough money to endow a local hospital bed, which became known as the “Mary free bed.”

Roberta Griffith and the Mary Free Bed Guild have both been honored with inductions into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.

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Bruce R Matza

Congratulations on entering the wonderful world of retirement. You have touched many lives over the years with your care, compassion and desire to practice ethical leadership. Our wishes for continued health and happiness.
….Annie & Bruce


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