Michigan Cares for Tourism celebrates several milestones this summer.
It’s the 10th anniversary for the program and Janes has scheduled a
reunion on September 11 at Mill Lake in Chelsea (site of the group’s
first project) and a volunteer event on September 12 at Cambridge
Junction in Brooklyn. Janes said this year’s events should push
Michigan Cares to the $1 million mark in volunteer value — savings in
labor and supplies given to attractions across the state.
“When you think that it’s lasted 10 years, and through two years of
COVID-19 when the industry was devastated, it’s amazing,” said Janes.
Admittedly, she said she borrowed the idea after experiencing it as a
faculty member at Central Michigan University and serving as a board
member for Tourism Cares, a nonprofit organization based in Boston. As
the only educator on the nonprofit’s board, she said she asked if she
could bring students to an upcoming project. The idea reshaped her
thought process toward the events.
“They let me bring four students that first time,” said Janes. “It
was at Mount Vernon, and it was magical.”
In 2006, Janes and 50 students joined Tourism Cares in New Orleans
and the Gulf Coast to assess and help in the aftermath of Hurricane
Katrina. Janes beamed with pride when she mentioned the student group
raised $18,000 to fund its trip.
“I will never capture an educational, learning, living, giving
experience like that in my life,” said Janes. “I would have ended my
career right there because there’s no way I could capture anything better.”
With the trips to Mount Vernon and the Gulf Coast fresh in mind,
Janes knew she wanted to bring the idea to Michigan. By 2012, she was
teaching at Grand Valley and approached Paul Stansbie, then the
department’s chair. Stansbie didn’t hesitate to help, and Michigan
Cares for Tourism was born.
“It was an easy decision because it aligned perfectly with the
mission of the unit and the college about community engagement and
experiential education,” said Stansbie, now associate dean of the
College of Education and Community Innovation. “Although the model was
more about tourism professionals, there was always space for students
to be a part of that.
“I’ve been to places in Michigan that I wouldn’t have thought of
going to if it hadn’t been for Michigan Cares.”
Fayette Historic State Park, Garden — Michigan Cares
volunteers painted buildings, repaired and constructed fences and
helped with landscaping at this 18th century iron-smelting town
located on the Upper Peninsula’s Garden Peninsula.
Sturgeon Point Lighthouse, Harrisville — The Michigan
Cares group visited the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse in 2015, building a
parking lot for bus tours, painting the lighthouse’s interior and
constructing picnic tables and bat houses.
Felt Estate, Saugatuck — In 2016, Michigan Cares
helped the Felt Estate with a variety of projects including restoring
windows, installing a roof, painting its historic barn and
constructing a 1000-foot trail that connected the estate to Saugatuck
Leelanau State Park, Northport — Located on the tip
of the Leelanau Peninsula, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse received a
coat of paint thanks to Michigan Cares volunteers in 2019. Volunteers
also built a playground, cleared trails and painted park structures.
Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, Copper Harbor — At
the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula sits Fort
Wilkins, home to a restored 1844 Army outpost and one of the first
lighthouses on Lake Superior, built in 1866. Volunteers installed a
roof, stained and painted the historical buildings and built and
ADA-compliant ramp for accessibility.
Creating next generation of professionals
The trips organized by Michigan Cares bring enormous value to the
attraction and its surrounding community, but it also gives a
professor like Janes the opportunity to introduce students to their
future line of work and people in the industry.
Her visit to Mount Vernon illustrated her mission. The historical
site was recovering from a hurricane that demolished the surrounding
countryside. At one point, she said, a student and volunteer were
chatting and sharing a moment as they cleared brush together. The
student had no idea who the volunteer was, but Janes later pointed out
it was Arthur Tauck, CEO of Tauck Tours, a family-owned company and
the largest privately held tour company in the world.
“I said, ‘Hey great job, but do you know who that was?’” she said.
It’s moments like those that Janes hopes to create with each visit.
“Part of it is about the connections you make and the relationships
you build,” said Stansbie. “Students are working side by side with
industry professionals, and you lose all the uncomfortableness of an
interview. They are on a level playing field and connecting right there.”
Janes and Stansbie aren’t the only ones to notice how beneficial the
interactions are, and not just between CEOs and students, but tourism
industry professionals and colleagues. These opportunities may bring
together people from different backgrounds and areas of the state, but
there’s one connection they share — the tourism and hospitality industry.
“It changes your perception about that person, who you feel they
represent and what area you think they represent,” said Dave Lorenz,
vice president of Travel Michigan. “It’s an engaging way to realize
through this immersive experience that we’re all the same in the most
“That’s what travel does, so when the travel industry can engage in
this way, it provides even greater benefit because this knowledge of
understanding can be amplified in our individual jobs. It makes us
more receptive and welcoming in anything that we do in the industry.”
Serving the industry and community
Industry professionals and state officials have witnessed Michigan
Cares for Tourism’s effect on the attraction, but also on the
attraction’s surrounding area and people.
Turek recalled the group’s trip to Sturgeon Point Lighthouse outside
Alpena on Lake Huron. Partnering with the lighthouse’s own group of
volunteers, the Michigan Cares for Tourism group brought 225
volunteers and received a warm welcome.
“That particular group made such a big deal out of those Michigan
Cares volunteers coming,” said Turek. “They didn’t have the bodies to
take care of some of the maintenance, and they were so appreciative.
They got a police escort for the bus to welcome them in. They had
people standing on the side of the road with signs welcoming Michigan Cares.”
Like Turek, Janes has fond memories of the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse trip.
“We built a parking lot so they could host motor coaches, we built
fencing, laid cement, put in new landscaping, and built picnic
tables,” said Janes.
“That lighthouse is 100 percent run by volunteers, but it’s seeing
the impact of helping people at a different level who equally share a passion.”
And as Turek pointed out, most attractions and landmarks usually have
fewer than 20 volunteers to help with maintenance and care year-round.
With dozens of Michigan Cares volunteers on hand for up to two days,
the change can be dramatic.
“In the morning you look at the space you’re about to impact, and it
looks a mess,” said Stansbie. “Then you have hundreds of volunteers
‘Tasmanian Devil’ their way through the thing.
And you look back at the end of the day at what you’ve done, and it’s transformational.”
As much as local communities value what Michigan Cares offers to
their landmarks, industry professionals like Lorenz and Turek
understand what Janes’ project has done for Grand Valley, too.
“It has really changed my perception about Grand Valley,” said
Lorenz. “It’s a university that thinks and sees the bigger picture of
what education is, and it’s more than a classroom and books.
It’s about participation in the community. It’s changed the way I see
Grand Valley as one of our leading education organizations in the state.”
Turek echoed Lorenz’s comments.
“I’m so appreciative that Grand Valley has committed resources to
this,” said Turek. “It has completely reframed my thought process when
I think of Grand Valley as a university and as a significant player in
Michigan for the tourism industry and recreation.”
Because two seasons of COVID restricted the group’s efforts, Janes
believes Michigan Cares will be ready to lend a hand for an industry
slowly returning to its economic strength. Tourism and hospitality
professionals are eager to see the industry and Michigan Cares return
to full force, too.
“The word has spread that this group of volunteers is the hardest
working group of volunteers you’re ever going to see,” said Turek.
“What Patty, Grand Valley and Michigan Cares have created is leaps and
bounds beyond what any other state agency is blessed to have, and
we’re so fortunate to have it.”