The organizers of DC Strong (clockwise from front, left) Zach Verhage, Larry Gonzalez, Nate Smith and Dustan Colyer with the “Cancer Response Unit” jeep.DC Strong presented Kylie with her princess care package while she was in the hospital. Kylie was fighting stage four Wilms-tumor cancer but has since been declared NED, meaning “No Evidence of Disease.” Clockwise, from front left, are Zach Verhage, Dustan Colyer, Kylie and her family and Nate Smith.

DC strong works to build an 'empire of strength'

By: 
Kayla Deneau, Staff Writer

In the weeks following the release of “No One Fights Alone: A Short Film,” Plainwell-based nonprofit DC Strong continues working to become a national presence. 

“We’re really widely known in Plainwell; we’re working to become widely known everywhere else,” said Dustan Colyer, the face, voice and namesake of DC Strong.
 
Colyer is currently fighting his fifth battle with cancer.
 
He, along with president Nate Smith, event and mentorship manager Zach Verhage and media and technology manager Larry Gonzalez, support children suffering from cancer.
 
Originally formed while the group attended Plainwell High School as a way to support Colyer, the organization was resurrected approximately a year-and-a-half ago with the goal of supporting others battling the disease.
 
These young men provide care packages, dream days and mentorship to the children and families impacted by cancer.
 
In the short film, the members explain the organization with the assistance of children they have helped in the past, and continue to help. 
 
It is narrated by Eric Bass, bassist for the rock band Shinedown.
 
Since the release, people across the country have contacted DC Strong.
 
“It’s really cool to get an email from someone we have never met saying they want to help. One volunteer said he could go anywhere we need him to go, to just tell him where,” Gonzalez said.
 
Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of the SRT Brand, tweeted the video on his personal Twitter account the day after its launch and offered support. 
 
DC Strong is currently awaiting nonprofit approval, but it has partnered with nonprofit Carolina Studios—where Hootie & the Blowfish’s Mark Bryan is chairman of the board—to allow them to legally operate as a nonprofit: namely, by providing tax breaks for donations.
 
The organization recently launched the “No One Fights Alone” campaign, in conjunction with the video.
 
They are raising money to go on a tour across the country. Right now their goal is $500,000, the amount needed to cover a tour of half of the U.S. 
The campaign is running through May 31, and they hope to leave in June.
 
“Most of the recent donations have come from out of state,” Gonzalez said. “Whichever half of the country donates the most is where we will go for the first tour.”
 
They are splitting the country by the Mississippi River.
 
Colyer said he has no preference on which half of the country they begin in.
 
“I’d like to just get in the bus, have my best friends with me and go anywhere we are needed because this is my life,” he said.
 
A vast array of donation perks are available, depending on the amount donated, ranging from $25 to $50,000.
 
Gonzalez said, “The whole purpose of the tour is to establish chapters of DC Strong in different regions across the country. To be in those areas on a more permanent level.”
 
People in Boston, Florida, Colorado and more have contacted them and a group in Boston is currently working to raise $10,000 to get DC Strong to visit while on tour in order to set up a Boston Chapter.
 
The organization plans to base its headquarters in the Plainwell area.
 
“We want to be based here,” Colyer said. 
 
Since the launch, the group has remained active near home. 
 
On Friday, April 25, the DC Strong members hosted a “Frozen” ball for their patient Kylie. It is her dream day. 
 
Due to her treatment for Wilm’s tumor, the same cancer Colyer has had, Kylie missed her father daughter dance. She was recently declared NED, meaning “no evidence of disease.”
 
“We’ve put it all together; the family just gets to show up and relax and meet all the people who have been supporting them,” Colyer said. “It’s a celebration.”
 
Then, on Saturday, Colyer’s story and the DC Strong message was highlighted at the University of Michigan Hospital Discovery Ball—an event for the hospital’s benefactors.
 
DC Strong is planning an upcoming fundraising event with the Sons of Malta—the 2014 EZ Memorial Ride in honor of fallen Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Officer Eric Zapata on Saturday, May 24.
 
A golf outing alternative is available for people who are not interested in the motorcycle ride.
 
There are also VIP meet and greet passes available to meet with members of Shinedown and cast members of the FX show “Sons of Anarchy.” The ticket upgrades are available on DC Strong’s website and are limited to the first 200 people.
 
 DC Strong is an official sponsor of the 2014 Jeep Show in Harrison on Saturday, July 19.
 
The show’s entry fee of $35 includes access to the trails at Rocks and Valleys Off-Road Park.
 
DC Strong makes a large effort to be sure donors see exactly where their money is going—making short videos of dream days and events. When they raise enough money for the tour, they plan on making a documentary.
 
Since the (video) release they’ve had an outpouring of volunteer support and patient submissions. 
 
They have also received many invitations to speak for organizations ranging from local groups to Smith being invited to speak at Western Michigan University’s business school.
 
Now, the group is in need of donations.
 
“During the live chat people kept saying, ‘Congratulations, I can’t wait to see what happens next,’” Gonzalez said. “We need you to help us with what happens next.”
 
Colyer said, “We have a lot of work ahead of us. We’re trying to build an empire of support, an army of hope.”
 
For more information, visit www.dcstrong.com.
 

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