our staff

our staff

Christy Buck

Christy Buck

Executive Director, Founder of be nice.

With more than 36 years of experience in the mental health field, Christy’s passion for transforming and saving lives through mental health education led her to develop two mental health and suicide prevention programs - be nice. and be nice.extension (formerly Live Laugh Love).

Since 2006, she and her staff have passionately presented to over 300,000 people in West Michigan on mental health awareness, bullying, and suicide prevention. She has been the keynote speaker at many events and regularly delivers speaking engagements to community and business groups on mental health awareness.

Christy’s determination to make mental health a part of the conversation has led to her involvement with numerous community organizations and coalitions along with becoming a certified instructor for QPR and Mental Health First Aid, for which she has been recognized as one of the Top 100 instructors in the country.

Christy has been awarded wonderful honors for her work including the American Red Cross Hometown Hero Award, 50 Most Influential Women In West Michigan, Daughters of the American Revolution Women In History Award, and was honored as a finalist for the Brilliance Awards Woman of the Year.

Of all of her accomplishments, her family brings her the most joy. She earned the title of yiayia two years ago and now has three beautiful grandchildren, and is the proud mom of Demetrios, Katerina, and Isabella with her hubby Tim.

Christy protects her mental health by dominating in trivia every Wednesday night with her friends and spending time at her second home in Manistee, Michigan. She is a proud graduate of Michigan State University (Go Green!) and is a devoted member of the Greek Orthodox Church.

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Larissa Payton

Larissa Payton

Executive Assistant

Larissa has been working with the Mental Health Foundation since 1999. She is a graduate of Kendall College of Art and Design with a BA in Visual Communications. Larissa was responsible for the creation of the original be nice. design on merchandise and printed material for the Foundation. In addition to creating cool stuff, she is the staff liaison with the Board, arranges meetings, takes minutes, and manages corporate files. She triages calls from the community and assists with our events. Larissa and her husband Joe protect their mental health by camping and spending time with family!

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Kandice Sloop

Kandice Sloop

Program Coordinator

Kandice works closely with schools on implementing and delivering our education programs: be nice. and be nice. extension. In addition, she serves as an Instructor for Mental Health First Aid and helps plan the MHF’s Annual Stomp Out Stigma Walk and Shining Through Art Show and Auction. Kandice graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2007 and received her Masters in Social Work from Western Michigan University in 2013. Kandice lives in Hudsonville with her husband, Patrick, and 2 daughters, Adeline and Blakely. Kandice protects her mental health by walking her golden retriever Rosie, spending time with family, shopping, and binge-watching tv shows with her husband.

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Catherine Lanting

Catherine Lanting

Program Director

Catherine (Cat) started at the Foundation as an AmeriCorps member in 2011. With her passion for the be nice.action plan, and belief that four simple steps can change someone's hour, their day, and/or their life, she has stepped into the role of Program Director. Seeing its potential and setting goals for be nice.programming to be accessible to any individual is her priority, but instructing all of the MHF's offered programs (including the be nice. action plan to kindergartners through senior citizens, be nice.extension, Mental Health First Aid, and QPR) is still where she finds much joy.

Cat is a native Grand Rapidian who graduated from Michigan State University with a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies - Health Studies and is so excited to be educating young people and the community about a topic that she needed information about in her own youth. She currently resides on the lakeshore, and in her free time, Cat skis, feeds chickens, races sailboats, and hikes the North Country Trail with her family and 3 canines to protect her mental health.

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Isabella Buck

Isabella Buck

Program Coordinator

Isabella (Bella) Buck has been involved with the foundation in many capacities, and loves working with the Program Department! As a Program Coordinator, she creates content for be nice. Programming and connects with liaisons throughout the year to ensure they are confident in implementing be nice. School and be nice. Team. A graduate of Aquinas College, she studied English, journalism & communication, and played Women's Soccer and Women's Tennis. Bella protects her mental health by taking long walks, calling friends, enjoying local coffee shops, and playing tennis!

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Rachael Braginton

Rachael Braginton

Program Coordinator

Rachael grew up with the be nice. program and was a part of the be nice. Leadership Group at Grandville High School for four years. She then attended Hope College where she studied business with a background in psychology and neuroscience, and also played Women’s Soccer. As a student-athlete, Rachael had her own struggles with mental health and became a survivor of suicide in 2018. Her personal understanding and passion for mental health awareness and suicide prevention in young athletes is what brought her to a position with the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan as a Program Coordinator, working with the be nice. School and Team programs. Rachael protects her mental health by playing rec soccer and volleyball, enjoying a good meal with a friend, and playing with her dog Tucker.

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Erin Aldrich

Erin Aldrich

be nice. Business Coordinator

Erin first became familiar with the Foundation when her high school became a be nice.School, and her many years of participating in the Stomp Out Stigma Walk. Now, in her role as Business Program Coordinator, she helps to onboard new be nice.Businesses and works with existing be nice.Businesses facilitate programming within their company. Erin has seen the amazing work be nice.has done in schools, and is excited to help bring this education to another demographic!

In her free time Erin is a dance coach and even takes a few classes herself to protect her mental health! She is passionate about understanding how exercise, being a part of a team, and expressing oneself through art and movement can be extremely protective to someone's mental health.


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Derek Schaedig

Derek Schaedig

Program Coordinator

Derek became involved with the Foundation in 2021 when he took part in the creation of a video to train high school coaches around the state of Michigan on the be nice. action plan. As a Program Coordinator and former men’s ice hockey player in college, Derek works with athletes and liaisons to help them implement the be nice. team program.

A graduate of Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Derek has also spent the last three years as an avid mental health advocate. He has been featured in podcasts, articles, and speeches to reduce the stigma and educate others about mental health.

Derek is a goalie coach for Chelsea High School and other young ice hockey goalies. He protects his mental health by exercising, reading, meditating, and relaxing with family and friends.

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Mary Aldrich

Mary Aldrich

Program Finance Coordinator

Mary began working in the mental health environment in 2012 at Network180 as an Accounting Clerk after being a stay at home mom for many years. During those years she volunteered in a variety of ways at her children's school, dance studio and other fundraising events. In 2017, she started at the Foundation as a volunteer organizing apparel. Now, she is responsible for the bookkeeping. She and her husband John have two children, Erin and Steven. She enjoys keeping the Foundation staff supplied in sweets, and chilling by the lake with family and friends and a good book!

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Therran Hines

Therran Hines

Office Assistant

Therran has been both a volunteer and an employee at the Mental Health Foundation of WM. He started with the MHFWM in 2006. Therran studied finance at Michigan State University. His most recent employment, prior to being with the Foundation was in building maintenance (volunteer) with the Food Bank of East Michigan. Therran has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and has had great success with his recovery. He is a very thoughtful guy who protects his mental health by not expecting more than what's reasonable.

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Tom DeGraaf

Tom DeGraaf

Operations Director

Tom is new to the Mental Health Foundation in April 2024 after working in the education field for thirty three years and then doing a short stint in the insurance industry for the past two and half years. He received his MA in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University in 1995 and his BA from Hope College in 1988. While at Hope College, Tom was instrumental in beginning and coaching the women’s soccer program from 1985-1987. His professional career began as a teacher and coach for Ionia Public Schools where he launched their youth soccer program and developed it up to the Varsity level. After ten years of teaching, his career moved him to Zeeland Public Schools where he was named Assistant Principal at Cityside Middle School for six years before being named Principal of Lincoln Elementary School where he finished out his education career for seventeen years. This is when Tom was first introduced to the be nice. program and launched Lincoln Elementary as a be nice. school. He, along with former high school counselor, Todd Kamstra, then helped expand the program as Zeeland became a be nice. district. During his tenure at Zeeland, Tom also became very involved with the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principal Association (MEMSPA) where he served in many leadership roles, including annual conference planning chair, President, Treasurer, and still currently serves as Retiree Chair on the MEMSPA Executive Board.

Tom lives in Holland with his wife, Bethany, and between the two of them, have five adult children. In addition to working for the Mental Health Foundation / be nice. Tom also helps his wife Bethany, a school liaison for Quincy Elementary School, to strengthen their be nice. programming delivery. To maintain his physical and mental health, Tom enjoys hiking, biking, skiing, and boating on Lake Michigan with Bethany and their dog Remi. When life needs to slow down, he also values quiet reading time and vacationing on the shores of Lake Michigan in Glen Arbor every year.


Eric Hipple

Eric Hipple

Outreach Specialist

Eric Hipple is a former National Football League (NFL) quarterback whose ten-year career was spent with the Detroit Lions. Born in Lubbock, Texas, and raised in Downey California, Eric graduated from Utah State University with a degree in Business administration and was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1980. Hipple’s accomplishments include two playoff bids, a divisional championship, and the Detroit Lion’s most valuable player award for the ‘81 season. From 1995-2000 Hipple was the color analyst for the FOX NFL pre-game show in Detroit.

Since his 15-year-old son Jeff’s suicide, Hipple has devoted his life to building awareness and breaking down the stigma surrounding depressive illnesses. Hipple received an Honorary Doctorate for his work in Mental Health from his Alma Mater while giving the commencement speech to the 2019 class at Utah State University. He also received the University of Michigan 2015 Neubacher Award for work with stigma associated with disabilities, the Detroit Lions 2010 Courage House award, and the prestigious 2008 Life Saver Achievement award given by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He co-authored a study examining depression among retired football players, the study appeared in the April 2007 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. He was awarded a presidential citation at the American Psychological Association’s 2006 Annual Convention for his six years of national community-based work combating adolescent depression and suicide prevention.

His message of resilience has provided mental fitness awareness to professional groups, the military, law enforcement, schools, communities, and thousands of high school and youth coaches. In conjunction with Navy U.S. Fleet Forces, he has provided workshops on destructive behavior and suicide prevention over an eleven-year span by focusing on Mental Fitness. His book “Real Men Do Cry” received a publisher Presidential Award. After retiring from the University of Michigan's Comprehensive Depression Center, where he spent ten years as outreach coordinator, he helped found the After The Impact Fund supporting mental health treatment for NFL Legends and military veterans. Most recently, Hipple was the recipient of the One Heart Award from the Detroit Has Heart Foundation and is currently working to provide Mental health awareness serving the public with an emphasis on military veterans, youth, and employees in the workplace. Eric's commitment to helping others find a quality in life is demonstrated through work with nonprofit foundations and their missions.

Eric protects his mental health by having a resilience plan and daily reflection.

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Jessica Stranz

Jessica Stranz

Office Ambassador

I have been involved in the be nice. program in 2017 and 2018. I also enjoy helping people with their mental health. I protect my mental health by bowling and hanging out with my family and friends.

Contact the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan

160 68th St. SW Suite 120
Grand Rapids, MI 49548


info@benice.org | 616.389.8601

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