Two grants worth nearly $550,000 were awarded this week by The Degen Foundation to the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education for additional medical equipment and a park on the medical college’s campus that honors those who have donated their bodies to science.

A $500,000 grant will go toward the "wellness park" and "celebration garden" to create healthy living environments on the institution’s campus at Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith. The funding will be recognized with the naming of a public park pavilion in the wellness park as The Degen Foundation Pavilion.

The grant for the medical college's new research equipment is for $49,985.

“These two grants demonstrate the unwavering support of the mission of ACHE and the Degen Foundation’s commitment to making a positive health impact in this region,” a joint new release from the medical college and the foundation states. “This focal point of the park will be 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.”

Plans for the park also include a lake, jogging path and exercise and play area among other amenities.

Jackie Krutsch, executive director of Development for the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, 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.”

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

The public park hopefully will influence healthy living practices for the entire region, Krutsch noted.

The second grant adds additional equipment to the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine Research Suite to “strengthen medical education at multiple levels,” including the medical college’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,” the release states.

Faculty and students at the medical college will “continue to use research to discover biomedical knowledge that is necessary for the advancements in treatments for debilitating diseases,” the release adds.

Pharis noted the funds make it possible to expand the work the biomedical faculty already does through collaborations with other regional universities. And the equipment will allow motivated students to conduct medically relevant research projects to support them in their efforts to move from undergraduate work to graduate education in health related fields.

Arkansas Colleges of Health Education is a private, nonprofit institution located on 228 acres in Fort Smith and was built using funds provided by The Degen Foundation. ACHE’s first college, the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine welcomed its inaugural class of 150 osteopathic medical students in August 2017. The College of Health Sciences is currently under construction and will be home to physical therapy, occupational therapy and physician assistant programs.