The UW Foundation has announced its launch of the Joan M. Gilles Memorial Fund, an endowment aimed at providing resources to families affected by stillbirth.
Lily Johnson, the director of development for UW’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said donations will support the mission of the university’s Hope After Loss Clinic where families that experience child loss during their pregnancy or delivery can find various forms of support.
Services range from one-on-one counseling to family therapy, to routine medical check-ups.
“This permanent endowment will support the work being done by the University of Wisconsin obstetricians in the area of infant loss and still birth,” Johnson explained. “This fund will also be used to raise awareness in the community around infant loss and stillbirth and support efforts including, but not limited to, community education, events, coalition between UW Ob-Gyn and other organizations working in the sphere.”
The fund was established after area residents Ryan and Grace Gilles lost their daughter, Joan, to stillbirth in early November. A fundraiser was set up by family members to support the couple financially, and to raise enough money for a humble memorial at the Waunakee Public Library.
More than $20,000 was raised in the first day alone.
Ryan and Grace saw the funds as an opportunity to help other families experiencing the loss of a child, and began looking at causes they could support with the financial resources at their disposal.
The couple and their family came upon the Hope After Loss Clinic shortly thereafter.
“We knew pretty much right away that that was an excellent fit for us, in terms of where to put the endowment fund,” Molly Button, Grace’s mother said. “It just seemed as though we could do the most good putting our financial resources there. The clinic works with educating doctors, nurses, anyone who comes into contact with a family who experiences this type of loss.”
The family was informed that they could establish a permanent endowment to support the clinic with a donation of $25,000. By then, enough funds had been raised to make that happen.
The check was written, and the endowment fund officially established on Dec. 22.
“This means that forever, Joan will have a permanent memorial at UW,” Johnson said, “and that there will always – as long as the university exists – be dedicated funding for education and care for families that experience a loss. So it’s a really lovely, but also permanent, memorial that directly helps other families.”
Button said the remaining funds will be used for a memorial at the Waunakee Public Library, where the family is hoping to donate a stone patio with benches and a plaque next to Six Mile Creek.
Plans for the memorial could be presented to the library board as early as Feb. 19.
Asked for her thoughts about the level of community support they received, Button said she and her family were “overwhelmed with how fortunate we are to be amongst so many kind and generous people.”
Information about the Joan M. Gilles Memorial Fund can be found at https://www.obgyn.wisc.edu/give/joansmemorial, where donations can be made to the endowment online.
Those wishing to contribute to the public-library memorial can do so at https://www.gofundme.com/f/joan-margaret-memorial.