WakeUp! Midland connects the community

Participation in WakeUp! Midland is beginning to approach pre-pandemic levels, much to the delight of leaders of the Midland Business Alliance (MBA),  which sponsors the monthly breakfast event.   

“People are getting comfortable again, now that we have vaccinations and experiences from Covid and why not?” says Greg Crawford, an independent insurance agent, MBA member and emcee of the event.  

“We work hard to make the 90 minutes entertaining and informative. We have spots for non-profits to highlight their services and sponsorship spots for commercial entities at all levels.  And we encourage lots of networking by the attendees.”  
Member Jane Johnson elicits comments with one of her several cue cards.
It is not clear when the program began, but member and enthusiast John McPeak dates it back to the 1990s when it was called Midland AM.  

Some 150 people were at the Great Hall Banquet and Convention Center, on Bay City Road. by 7:30 a.m. this past Friday, Feb. 3, as was a reporter for Catalyst Midland.

In the program’s early days, Crawford explains, the site was chosen by bidding among various venues.  He said the program eventually moved to the Great Hall as it was the only venue in Midland who could host the 200-300 people who attended.  When Covid-19 struck, in-person was not possible, so leaders turned to Zoom for virtual meetings. That continued for almost one year and saw about 100 people participating virtually.

Friday’s agenda was noisy much of the time and chock-full of opportunities for strangers to listen, learn and share experiences.  This happens notably as breakfast is winding down and attendees have 20 minutes to mingle; most exchange business cards.  Sponsors’ booths are busy during this  time and attendees drop their cards at each to enter in a drawing for prizes near the end of the program.

There is even a “secret networker” milling about in this period and cards he or she collects goes into another drawing.   

The program starts with the Pledge of Allegiance and singing of the Star-Spangled Banner, followed by brief presentations by various sponsors of that meeting.  For example, MyMichigan Health presented a video, shot at LaLonde’s Market with a moderator explaining how to read ingredients in packaged food.
Robin Hamann and Heather Watson chat during the networking segment of WakeUp! Midland Friday.
Next up, other sponsors give 20-second presentations to introduce their businesses.  Friday, Covenant HealthcareTri Star Trust Bank and Midland Community Center’s Curling Center and a few others made their pitches as part of the “It’s Your Dollar” segment of the program.

Few stayed within their allotted time but that was okay as the audience was busy responding to cue cards held up by MBA member Erin Thayer, a loan originator at Calhoun Mortgage in Howell.

The cards commanded the  usual “Laughter” and “Applause” orders but also “Groan,” “Amen,” “Whatever” and maybe the card most often used “Woo-Hoo.”   

The 20-minute networking following this segment was a beehive of activity.  

Robin Hamann, board treasurer of Midland Recyclers, says she attends frequently to highlight the services and capabilities of the Recycling Center,  4305 E. Ashman, and especially to dispel the common belief that its effort is part of the City of Midlandhttps://cityofmidlandmi.gov/.

“We are not the city,” she emphasized.  “We get no tax dollars from the city or anywhere else.  We offer our many services, such as safe disposal of electronics, foam, cardboard, batteries and so much else to keep the environment safe for the future.  We are not a city thing,” she says,  passionately. 

Each WakeUp! event features a primary speaker and  Friday; it was the Midland Area Wellbeing Coalition.  Though its presentation and later, Q&As with Scott Withrow acting as emcee (microphone in hand), its four representatives explained:

“Wellbeing is feeling good, struggling well and functioning effectively as individuals, groups and communities.”  The group identifies six key contributing factors to wellbeing:  Positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishment, and health.  

Jeff Berard, owner of the new Stretch Center, explains his clinics’ services to an attendee at Friday’s event.
Withrow says the event is evolving to fit the needs of the community and members and guests of MBA.   He credits this to a “wacky committee” that is always looking for something fun – yet meaningful – that the audience will enjoy.  

“The last thing we want is a yawner – the main thing is for members to meet other members (of MBA) and that is why we always program a 20-minute networking segment early in the 90-minute event,” Withrow says.   He is an insurance agent at Saginaw Bay Underwriters. 

Marybeth Penkala, also of the MBA has been involved with the event but is moving to a new position within the MBA.  She offers this perspective of WakeUp! 

“A different theme each month is important to the community,” she says.  “People want to talk about new things happening in the community, like new construction.  In December, the theme was what to do in Midland over the holidays, so we covered the Santa House, the Center for the Arts, Downtown Midland.  We can set up a continuing connection between businesses, non-profits and events – and shine a light on them.”   

The next WakeUp! is scheduled for Friday, March 4, beginning at 7:30a.m.


Read more articles by Ed Hutchison.

Journalism, teaching journalism and gardening are passions that continue to delight Ed Hutchison, a Midland native and resident for most of his life. He is the author of the book “Digging in the Dirt …Friendly Tips for the Gardener in All of Us” and hundreds of newspaper-published garden columns.   He has worked at The Saginaw News and  Dow Corning Corporation and taught at Delta College and Central Michigan University.