ACHE receives over $500,000 in grants for wellness park, research equipment

The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) and The Degen Foundation announced Thursday (June 28) two grants totaling more than $500,000 to fund a “celebration garden and wellness park.”

Foundation fund will be awarded to the Fort Smith-based medical university, with the $500,000 award helping to fund the park in order to meet the university’s mission of creating “healthy living environments on the institution’s campus” as well as supporting health and wellness education, and creating a facility to honor ACHE’s anatomical donors, according to ACHE officials.

It will be recognized with the naming of the park pavilion as The Degen Foundation Pavilion. The pavilion will serve as the future location “for many outdoor wellness activities, classes and lectures, and a gathering place for celebrations and ceremonies set in a beautiful, landscaped site,” the statement noted. Plans for the park include a lake, jogging path, exercise and play area, and other to-be-determined amenities.

ACHE Executive Director of Development Jackie Krutsch said the garden and park concept came out of two discussions.

“One discussion focused on ‘How do we meet the immediate needs of a healthy living environment for our students and the local community?’ The second discussion centered on the need to have a quiet place to honor and celebrate our anatomical donors, who contribute so much to the education of our medical students.”

Krutsch added: “The park will be a public park, open to the entire community. Influencing healthy living practices for the entire region is our goal.”

Karen Pharis, board chairman of The Degen Foundation, said the organization is “focused on projects with an impact that ripples throughout the community and both of these grant proposals did that.”

“The garden and park meet the immediate needs of a growing college campus, but what really appealed to The Degen Foundation was that with the construction of the pavilion, outdoor wellness programs could be offered to the community,” Pharis said.

The second grant in the amount of $49,985 adds additional equipment to the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) Research Suite. The joint statement said funding will strengthen medical education at multiple levels, including ARCOM’s ability to expand research training to current medical students, the ability to serve student collaborators from regional universities, and faculty and students from local high schools. Faculty and students at ARCOM will use the equipment as well.

“From an impact standpoint, the grant for the ARCOM Research suite is very exciting. These funds make it possible to expand the work that the biomedical faculty is already doing through collaborations with other regional universities. This equipment will allow motivated students to conduct medically relevant research projects, and will help to support them in their efforts to move from undergraduate work to graduate education in health-related fields,” Pharis said.

In a follow-up interview with Talk Business & Politics, ACHE Executive Director of Community Relations Susan Devero said local high schools would benefit from the shared resources through AP Biology classes and the university has connected with Fort Smith and Van Buren school districts with the hopes to expand outreach when the equipment is received. From a regional university standpoint, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) is on board and one student from Ouachita Baptist University is using the facility over the summer.

ACHE is a private, nonprofit institution located on 228 acres in Fort Smith’s Chaffee Crossing district. ARCOM, its first college, welcomed an inaugural class of 150 osteopathic medical students in August 2017. The second college — the Arkansas College of Health Sciences — is currently under construction and will be home to physical therapy, occupational therapy, and physician assistant programs.