Richard DeVos, the co-founder of direct-selling operation Amway, built his wealth nationally and internationally, and he and his wife, Helen, are active across the U.S. in their philanthropy, known for contributing prominently to historic and civic organizations like Mount Vernon and the National Constitution Center, free-market think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, and Christian groups including Focus on the Family and Prison Fellowship.
But the heart of their giving, they say, is local. “A focus of our philanthropy has always been our home area. We want to create an atmosphere for everyone to improve their circumstances while advancing our community, whether through Christian compassion, education, health care, or the arts.”
The DeVoses have given money to everything from local schools to the regional symphony, helping turn Grand Rapids, Michigan, into one of the livelier and healthier small cities in the U.S. When the couple won their Simon Prize in 2006 they distributed the award money to eight local organizations in western Michigan “whose leaders all demonstrated resourcefulness in helping people help themselves.”
Making sure that their local community has the resources to thrive motivated their major contributions to the city’s children’s hospital, and its heart and lung transplant center, one of three such in the state of Michigan. The DeVoses’ gift was crucial in recruiting transplant pioneer Asghar Khaghani to lead the new center. Khaghani has personally performed more than 1,000 transplants in adults and children around the world. With talent like that in Grand Rapids, local patients can recover with support from family and friends in familiar surroundings. Bringing the highest quality care to people in their home regions, so they don’t have to face wrenching choices about leaving, is a great goal for donors, in the DeVos view.