Courier July Courier - Page 21

A groundswell of gratitude BY KENDALL FLETCHER I NOTICED SOMETHING beautiful in Detroit during my first-ever Tourism Cares work project. Not the sunshine on that pleasant May day, the flowers we planted nor the freshly mulched trees. It was when strangers went out of their way to say “thank you” for what we were doing. Cheesy, I know. But it was incredible. We received lots of gratitude from group leaders and organizers for traveling to Detroit, getting out of our comfort zones and work- ing long hours to make places prettier, children hap- pier and school buses artsier. But I wasn’t expecting thanks from so many Detroit residents. The apprecia- tion came in the forms of waves, smiles, horn honks and actual thank-you’s all throughout the day. About 200 volunteers spent the day gardening on Belle Isle, urban farming on Georgia Street and with the Michigan Urban Farm Initiative, enriching youth at Pasteur Elementary, painting graffiti murals and rehabbing Lafayette Park. At my worksite in Lafayette Park, we dug up land- scape stones, pulled weeds, laid compost and mulched around trees and in flower beds, and we planted lots of hydrangeas and catmint. I made some new friends over laughs while battling stubborn tree roots, tippy wheelbarrows and exceptionally heavy rocks that seemed to multiply. Laura Kastenbauer, marketing coordinator with Mayflower Tours in Downers Grove, Illinois, was like me: relatively new to the travel industry and partici- pating in her first Tourism Cares project. “When it comes to being in the tourism industry and volunteering for this event, I notice a connection to places we travel to,” she said. “We go there, and we’re not just leaving. You actually connect to the community. It’s nice to fix up places that are forgot- ten and to create more places for people to enjoy.” It was fun to learn who was new and who was seasoned in these events. Dan Flores with Maverick Aviation Group has participated in Tourism Cares projects since 2008. “It’s important and offers a great opportunity to network with industry professionals and buyers taking part in the event. There’s nothing better than spending six to seven hours with someone, building a relation- ship,” said Flores, who served as a team leader for the group at the Georgia Street Community Collective. Tourism Cares certainly met my expectations: meet lots of people, see a little bit of the city, work really hard and be really sore for a couple of days. Building friendships and putting faces to names while making a positive impact on an already-cool city was reward- ing enough … I didn’t need to be thanked. Barry Burton with the City of Detroit discusses the design of flower beds in Lafayette Park during Tourism Cares for Detroit, May 11–12. A group of Tourism Cares volunteers shovel compost to transfer to trees and flower beds. About 200 industry professionals from across the U.S. provided work valued at $30,000. Volunteers clean out a landscape bed in downtown Detroit. 19