Editor's note: This column is part of a series featuring Lakeshore residents sharing their stories.
Since 2013, Michigan Cares for Tourism
(MC4T) has coordinated more than 3,000 volunteers to 30 different destinations resulting in more than $750,000 of donated supplies and labor to these locations. MC4T is a nonprofit engaging Michigan’s tourism industry professionals in volunteerism to aid historic, cultural, and natural attractions in need. I have the pleasure of
founding and coordinating this 100% volunteer, 100% give-back efforts.
Patty Janes and volunteers of Michigan Cares for Tourism (MC4T).
This initiative changed my life.
It brought people together. People became more engaged in volunteerism. Our industry became better connected. Visitors had better experiences, and it just, plain and simple, felt amazing to give and bond with others over shared passions making a difference. I searched for this feeling my entire career.
As a university professor, I often state that my job is to move the hospitality and tourism industry forward. I attempt to do this through preparing the next generation of tourism industry leaders at Grand Valley State University in my courses and advising, engaging in service on boards and committees, and conducting, presenting, and writing about my areas of focus — tourism marketing and research — in what is referred to as scholarship.
These are the areas the university asks us to engage with, yet faculty define how we do so. This balance of teaching, service, and scholarship is an interesting function of someone in my role.
MC4T Founder Patty Janes paints during a volunteer project.
Attempting to do justice to each area — and feel I have contributed to the industry — has challenged me for 30 years.
Although I found ways to do so early in my career, through maintaining my industry connections (as a past hotel manager before my academic career) in community-based learning activities and working alongside the industry in my service efforts, the connections were sporadic and disjointed.
Connecting the industry
I found the uniqueness of my role allowed me to engage with the entire diverse industry, not just one aspect of it. I regularly saw how each component of the industry relied on the other, but didn’t engage necessarily together. Associations largely allowed hoteliers to connect with hoteliers, restaurant managers with restaurant managers, and attractions with other attractions.
There were few opportunities for each discipline in the industry to engage with each other.
I had the privilege of watching students intern in every aspect of the industry. I had an obligation to expose them to each discipline, and I undoubtedly learned the most. My desire for more meaning from my career, feeling I could do more, recognizing the need for greater multi-discipline engagement, and searching for a way to pull my service, scholarship, and teaching interests together came to fruition in 2006, when I took 50 students to help repair tourism sites destroyed by Hurricane Katrina as part of Tourism Cares.
We worked alongside 300 tourism professionals removing debris that used to be a museum, art center, state park, library … all the places people would go in their free time to learn and grow and be enriched.
Everything my industry attempts to do by enhancing people’s quality of life when they travel for business or pleasure was in desperate need of repair.
MC4T volunteers who took part in a historic cemetery project for the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department.
The experience of tourism professionals from across various disciplines engaging with students in a meaningful way, making a difference to a destination, with everyone leaving feeling changed, was a feeling I wanted to replicate — for myself, for my students, and for my industry. This is what I wanted for my career.
Michigan Cares for Tourism (MC4T) emerged from this experience.
MC4T deepened and regularly gave me the sense of community I longed for, better fulfilling my interest in moving the industry forward, and creating more than I imagined. It’s an industry of relationships.
Patty Janes is a professor in hospitality and tourism management at Grand Valley State University and a MC4T volunteer. MC4T is guided by a board of directors composed of tourism professionals from around Michigan. She lives in Spring Lake with her family. Information about Michigan Cares for Tourism can be found at michigancaresfortourism.org.