Michael Stephens: Safeguarding United Ability for the Long Term

In 2018, United Ability celebrates 70 years of serving individuals living with disabilities. What better way to help safeguard the next 70 years than through planned and estate gifts. Legacy gifts allow supporters an avenue to first take care of family and loved ones and then provide for organizations dear to them.

Such was the case when United Ability recently received a significant bequest from the estate of Michael Stephens, founder of Lakeshore Foundation and ReLife, Inc., of which Lakeshore Hospital is the flagship facility. This gift, bestowed through a Charitable Remainder Unitrust, was unknown to United Ability until after Mr. Stephens’ death. Made in memory of his beloved sister, Elaine, this testamentary gift illustrates Mr. Stephens’ “uncompromising high standards … ministering to the needs of those with physical disabilities.”  

The middle of three siblings, “Michael had joy in giving,” shared older sister, Carlynn. In fact, ‘joy” was the word Carlynn used to describe Elaine. Born with spina bifida, Elaine survived polio and rheumatic fever which led to life-long heart problems. Elaine never thought she would live to the age of 50, yet her strong faith kept her going. Carlynn recalls, “As children, Michael and Elaine were very close. Later, as an adult, Michael came to her rescue many times, providing encouragement and financial support. He understood her infirmities and struggles and admired her courage.” Elaine passed away at the age of 56.

Michael indeed understood struggles. At age 26, he experienced severe physical disability through a freak accident which caused paralysis and launched him into the world of rehabilitation. The personnel, facilities, equipment, and processes he encountered during his own rehabilitation became the catalyst for a career that would create world-renowned spaces dedicated to helping others. Michael was an extremely successful businessman, but, “I want people to know that [he] had a heart and passion to help those who suffered with any type of disability, those that can be seen and those unseen,” stated Carlynn.

“To the United Ability families who will be impacted through his generosity,” Carlynn continued, I want you to know that [Michael’s] happiest times were when he was giving to others.” [He] must have been convinced United Ability would provide a quality of care for the disabled that he wanted to support.”

“On behalf of the United Ability family,” expressed CEO, Dr. Gary Edwards, “we are humbled by Michael Stephens’ compassion and thoughtfulness. Helping ensure our agency is here for years to come is the ultimate gift, and he certainly has led by example.”

Special thanks to Carlynn Stephens Brandon, Michael’s sister, and to Allison Stephens, Michael’s wife, for sharing family photographs, memories, and a copy of “Sports Rehabilitation and the Human Spirit” which served as a wonderful resource and is quoted briefly in this article.

To learn how you can create a legacy that perpetuates your values, provides for your loved ones, and safeguards the future of United Ability, contact Alison Berman Chief Development Officer, at 205.944.3907.

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