Fulfilling a community need on the Keweenaw

When Visit Keweenaw began looking for space to host the launch of its upcoming Sustainable Tourism educational series, the tourism organization found that its usual meeting spaces were unavailable.

Visit Keweenaw, the tourism authority for the U.P.'s northernmost peninsula, operates out of the visitors center in Calumet. That space lacks the seating capacity and necessary audio-digital features to host meetings with more than 10 attendees. 

“The venues we typically utilize were already booked, so we were excited to learn about the new facilities at the Keweenaw Area Community Foundation,” says Brad Barnett, executive director of Visit Keweenaw.

Those new free, community-accessible meeting spaces are located at the Portage Lake District Library in Houghton and the Keweenaw Area Community Foundation’s offices in Hancock. The meeting rooms, six in all, range in capacity from two to 50 people. 

“It’s great to see the Foundation learning about a community need and taking action to address it,” Barnett says. “I’m sure our area organizations will benefit from the space’s transformation.”

The first program in the Sustainable Tourism series,  “Fostering the Keweenaw’s Dark Skies,” is scheduled for noon on November 10 and is expected to draw upwards of 10 people. The event will be held in the meeting room at the Keweenaw Area Community Foundation in Hancock. The series will focus on a range of topics with the overall goal of making the region a leader in sustainable tourism.

Responding to the community, the Keweenaw Area Community Foundation stepped in to create the new meeting spaces, noting the importance of having places for community collaborations and engagement.  The organization partnered with local organizations and businesses to make the rooms possible.

"We heard from our community that locating spaces for community meetings and engagement was difficult. Creating spaces and opportunities for the community to meet and work together is one of our priorities at KCF, so we were excited to be able to partner with the community to make these new spaces available,” says Robin Meneguzzo, executive director of the Keweenaw Area Community Foundation. 

What’s happening: The Keweenaw Area Community Foundation has created free, community-accessible meeting space at the Portage Lake District Library in Houghton and its own offices in Hancock. 

Funding: Money for the construction of the meeting rooms at the Portage Lake District Library came from a $12,500 grant from the organization’s Community Impact Fund. The Community Impact Fund provides money for a variety of community projects or programs dedicated to collaborative approaches designed to maintain or improve the quality of life in the greater Keweenaw area.

The community needs: Various community groups and organizations had approached the Keweenaw foundation about how difficult it had become to find space to hold meetings or events for the community that was free and open to the public. Those groups included the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region, The Copper Country Humane Society, The Nature Conservancy, Visit Keweenaw, Copper Country Great Start Collaborative. The need increased with the recent closure of the conference rooms at the Copper Country Intermediate School District. There also has been a lack of a dedicated community center in the area. The Keweenaw foundation is working to better support this need as changes arise, officials say. 

Portage Lake District Library: Rooms have been created in the library on Huron Street in Houghton. Those meeting spaces are:
  • Small Trailside study room, maximum capacity, two people;
  • Big Trailside meeting room, eight people;
  • West-end Conference Room, maximum, 16 people;
  • Community Room, maximum, 50 people.

Each meeting room is free and available for public use. The spaces are available for community use when they are not being used for library events.

Keweenaw Community Foundation: The foundation adjusted its Hancock office space to welcome community use. The project was supported with financial and in-kind donations from the Nature Conservancy of Michigan, Lahti Properties and Quality Hardware.
The spaces are:
  • Community Room, maximum capacity of 50 people and includes audiovisual (AV) equipment
  • Meeting Room, maximum capacity, eight people, and includes AV equipment. 

Community members are welcome to request space for meetings, gatherings or small events, beginning this month.

The Western U.P. Planning and Development Region is among the organizations that have already reserved the meeting rooms. The organization has reserved meeting rooms at both the library and the foundation's offices. 

"For the library, I reserved space for the Portage Lake Seed Library to stock seeds. The room is smaller and more suitable for the work that requires table space but not as much as their community room offers," says Rachael Pressley, a senior regional planner with the regional planning agency. "For my meeting at their offices, I needed a space that was more accessible for community members than my own office building."

Pressley says she plans to continue to use the spaces for community meetings such as for the Accessible Keweenaw Initiative Coalition and the Portage Lake Seed Library. "This new space is invaluable to the area," she says.
Information: Contact the community foundation at mail@keweenawgives.org with request details to schedule a meeting or event. Meeting space is on a first-come, first-served basis. 

About the Keweenaw Area Community Foundation: The foundation’s purpose is to support a thriving community through collaboratively matching community needs with resources to improve quality of life. The Keweenaw foundation is an affiliate of the Community Foundation of the Upper Peninsula, a registered non-profit charitable organization.

Jason M. Karel is a freelance writer based in northern Michigan. 
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