The Bavarian Inn Lodge (Frankenmuth, MI)

The Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn Zehnder Family and executive leadership team have upheld a philosophy of being great stewards within the Frankenmuth community for the past 83 years. Today, 2nd, 3rd and even 4th generation owners are active Community and Regional leaders and have been educating and promoting staff members to follow in their footsteps.5018952932_1bbcb55ede_z.jpg

Volunteering: Currently, there are 9 family members actively involved in the day-to-day operations of Bavarian Inn Restaurants, Hotel and Retail Divisions in Frankenmuth. Every family member is actively involved in outside organizational Boards of Directors – giving back of their personal time. They invite leadership (40 Managers and 60 Supervisors) to do the same, a tradition of over 80 years!

Philanthropy: The Bavarian Inn Zehnder and Keller families have been significant corporate financial givers to virtually all local and regional non-profit organizations—from both a corporate and a personal level. The Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Bavarian Inn Lodge evaluates over 1,200 donation requests annually and has been donating significant products and services such as auction items, school/church raffle items, and items for individuals with significant personal challenges and non-profit groups for decades. The Bavarian Inn places a heavy emphasis on helping organizations that help families. Whether its hospitals, CAN Council, Child & Protective Services, Make-a-Wish foundation, or children’s church and school programs, they dig deep with financial and volunteering investments.

Environmental Efforts: With a deep German heritage, frugality, and running a business through the depression created the idea of “being green” long before this term was defined. The focus on being environmentally sound by all leadership within all operations of the Bavarian Inn Companies is an underlying way-of-life. Many of their efforts to save the planet and being socially responsible go back 60+ years.


Ethical Compliance / labor practices: William (Tiny) Zehnder and wife Dorothy Zehnder co-founded the Bavarian Inn. Their ethics in working alongside their staff and engaging them as “a work family with a family work ethic” has continued for decades!

The mission of the Bavarian Inn is “to create enjoyable experiences for our guests, ourselves and each other!” The emphasis is not solely on their guests, but rather all of the people that make their business run—including their employees. As many employees spend perhaps more waking hours of their days with each other than they do with their own families, the care as owners is essential. The owners working alongside staff is an exceptional experience. The wage levels and benefits offered for the Bavarian Inn team members far surpass the hospitality industry standard! The proof of success is well-measured by the years-of-service of the owners and the management team of Bavarian Inn Corporately. Added together, the years-of-service for the 9 owners is 337 years and the current management team—1,060 years! This equates to a nearly 20 year average employment…with 25 Managers having more than 20 years of service.

It is obvious the people stay working here for a reason—to be involved with a well-rounded culture that contributes not only to its guests, but takes care of its employees, its community and the world. Michigan Cares for Tourism appreciates the efforts of the Bavarian Inn, a family culture that truly “cares”.


Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry (Mackinaw City, MI)

“We believe giving back to the communities that we operate within is a must.”-Misty Martinchek

This motto puts meaning behind the contributions of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry in Mackinaw City, MI—to their employees, their surrounding environment, and for betterment of the region. For the past two years, Shepler’s has either sponsored a cast member to attend a MCFT event or they have sponsored the event itself. Aside from their involvement with Michigan Cares for Tourism, the many ways they give to society is huge. Corporate Social Responsibility…they get it.

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  • As a part of the Shepler’s Gives Back program, Shepler’s Cast Members fill the volunteer schedule for a whole day of bell ringing for the Salvation Army of Cheboygan
  • Shepler’s Cast Members join others in the community for the Cheboygan United Way Walk for Warmth. This sponsored walk raises funds to help Cheboygan County families pay for heat throughout the winter months. Shepler’s also contributes a monetary donation to this event.
  • Shepler’s Cast Members volunteer for the Adopt-A-Highway program to clean up a 2 ½ mile stretch of I-75 three times per year. They want to keep the environment clean for residents and visitors.
  • Every year, Shepler’s participates in a movement—Bridge Fare – Pay It Forward, where they pick a day and pay for about 10 vehicles’ Mackinac Bridge fare. The recipient of the bridge fare receives a card asking them to pay it forward.

Shepler’s conducts approximately 40 Lighthouse Cruises annually. $500 of the proceeds of each cruise are donated to the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, who use the money to help with upkeep and repairs to the lighthouses in the Straits of Mackinac. This began when their cruises began—in 1998. That’s almost 20 years of giving! To date, their donations have totaled over $250,000 to help preserve these historic icons!


Through constant maintenance, upgrading our equipment, and consistent training of our captains, Shepler’s has been able to reduce the amount of fuel used per trip to the Island and with that; the amount of oil they use has been reduced. By running equipment more efficiently, they reduce their carbon footprint.

Along with their external initiatives, they began a program three years ago called Shepler’s beneFIT. The program goal is to keep employees moving and eating healthy. The program lasts 13 weeks and consists of 1 weekly challenge.  If the employee completes all 13 challenges, their name is put in a drawing for a $150 gift card for MC Sports.  Some of the past challenges include: No pop for a week, Bike around Mackinac Island, Take a hike, and Eat 5 fruits and veggies each day.  The challenges start off easy and get progressively harder throughout the summer. Cast members love the challenges that combine getting in shape with having fun!

Michigan Cares for Tourism is proud of the efforts of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry. Their internal and external efforts have lasting effects—which speak directly to CSR. A huge high five to this awesome organization!


Absopure Water Company (Plymouth, MI)

Absopure Water Company is a provider of quality, bottled natural spring water and refreshment services throughout the United States. Along with hydrating all Michigan Cares for Tourism volunteers, Absopure is involved with many other philanthropic community initiatives and environmental efforts.


Since the Flint, Michigan water crisis began, Absopure has partnered with a number of local organizations, including the Flint Food Bank, HealthPlus Crim Festival of Races, local grocery stores and the Jay Towers Water Drive, to donate more than 50,000 gallons of bottled water to residents in need throughout the city. Additionally, Absopure donates thousands of gallons of water to charitable events and races in Michigan, St. Louis and Chicago each year.

Aside from helping people, Absopure is also an industry leader in recycling plastic bottles.


Since 1988, recycling has been a fundamental part of the company’s mission and operations. Absopure started its own recycling company, Clean Tech Inc. in Dundee, Michigan, where more than 80 million pounds of plastic are processed annually. This has helped keep plastic waste out of landfills. The recycled plastic is used to make products like Absopure’s Eco-Pak bottles, made from recycled bottles with each bottle containing at least 10% recycled content.

We are pleased to be able to share the story of Absopure, a true champion in so many areas of giving back. Absopure betters not only their company itself, but the surrounding people and environment.

For more information about Absopure, visit

Pictured Rocks Cruises (Munising, MI)

It’s more than just boat rides at Pictured Rocks Cruises in Munising, MI.


Postcards and photographs display the great beauty of this national lakeshore, but the awe of philanthropy is seen through its people. John Madigan, owner of Pictured Rocks Cruises, speaks of a unique opportunity that began with the idea of “giving back” in mind. “About 6 years ago we wanted to do something to accomplish a number of things: 1. Give back to our area, 2. Create greater awareness of the national park and 3. take a slow time in the season and create economic development for our community and our region.” So it began—Yoopers Ride Free Day, the 2nd Saturday in June, where anyone with a valid Upper Peninsula address could ride on a Pictured Rocks Cruise for free.

Through this unique opportunity, people that could not typically afford to go ride were able to experience the wonder of this natural beauty. People came from all over the UP, with every Upper Peninsula county having people represented. At first, people assumed there was a gimmick or a catch, but there wasn’t. First come, first serve beginning at 8 am. Their goal of 500 riders the first year was nearly doubled…each being asked one question, “have you been to Pictured Rocks?”

75% had not.

Madigan noted the impact. “I noticed the little things—people were so thankful. The riders came to town early, went to restaurants, and toured the area. It was great for our community.”

Due to the large turnout, the second year brought “Pictured Rocks Day” festival. Along with free boat rides, there was also an event in the park with food vendors and artists. That year brought 1,500 people on the cruises and the park had about 50 vendors.

Each year brought more and more people, and the fourth year morphed into a 2-day event involving 2900 riders, CVB involvement, donations, clowns, a bird show, and bands.

“There were a lot of single mothers coming with kids and people that would have otherwise not have taken the boat ride. People said this was their family vacation, and that was special to us.”

This event has grown immensely over the six years. Bringing people to this area attracts visitors to restaurants, motels and campgrounds and it’s great for increasing business in that way. Combined with a sense of giving back to the community that has contributed added support to this tourist attraction, Pictured Rocks Days allows local citizens to appreciate and experience the wonder of the world near where they call home. It brings significant awareness to a national park. And, if nothing else, it makes 2,500 people go back to their town and talk about Pictured Rocks.

It’s more than just a boat ride.



“Pay It Forward”–Holland CVB (Holland, MI)

What does it mean to really “Pay it Forward”? And how do partners of Michigan Cares for Tourism achieve this through the tourism industry? Read more to find out how one Michigan town takes the responsibility of both giving back and paying it forwards through a unique program.Capture.JPG


In February of 2010, during the economic downturn, the City of Holland hit the national headlines when it was named the Second Happiest City in the US Gallop-Healthwise Well-Being Index.  This recognition piqued the interest of ABC journalist, Diane Sawyer.  “How can a small town, in a state known for its high unemployment rate and nasty winters, beat out so many other cities in the happiness department?”  So she – and her cameras – visited, our then Mayor, Kurt Dykstra, toured the city, sat down with locals and found the answer in the sense of community, neighbors helping neighbors, over 100 volunteer-based organizations and 170 churches, and the caring philanthropy of Holland.

Ramona Scott, from Brooklyn, New York, watched Diane’s report on the evening news and was so impressed with the way the community of Holland expressed contentment in the face of hardship that she sent the Mayor a $250 check instructing him to distribute it in increments of $25 to those who could use a boost.  Ms. Scott’s generosity inspired the citizens of Holland, who began sending checks to augment the Ramona Scott Fund, which eventually evolved into the creation of Pay it Forward Holland.

The website, was created and numbered cards were made available to be handed out along with random acts of kindness – any form of giving imaginable.  The cards direct the recipient of the random act to the website, where the kind gesture can be recorded and used to inspire others to pay it forward.  The thought being that “together we can build on Ramona Scott’s humble act of kindness, creating an endless wave of compassion that resonates around the world.”

Recording the act of kindness on the website, along with the numbered card, allows the person to watch the many acts that follow from their one kind gesture. These acts can cost little or no money.  Some of the suggestions on the site include leaving treats on someone’s doorstep, letting someone cut in front of you in line, sharing your favorite book, shoveling someone’s sidewalk, or picking up someone’s tab in the drive-thru.

Following her donation and the ensuing wave of giving, Ms. Scott was invited to the Tulip Time Festival by Councilwoman, Nancy DeBoer. The Holland Area Visitors Bureau and other local businesses donated everything from frequent flier miles to meals to lodging to make Scott’s visit possible. When her plane landed at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Ms. Scott was greeted by Mayor Dykstra and Holland town crier, John Karsten. She was stunned by the greeting and went on to enjoy her visit which included participating in tulip Time’s Parade of Bands. Scott says being generous doesn’t have to involve having a lot of time or money. Her advice: “Just get started. Little things mean a lot.”

The Visitors Bureau went on to manage the Pay It Forward card program sending out cards to individuals and groups from around the country wishing to join in the movement.  We’ve followed cards that have traveled to locations as far reaching as the Grand Caymon Islands, Nevada and Maryland, and even noted someone receiving his card along with a free beer at the Hard Rock Café in Cancun, Mexico. Most, though, stay in West Michigan and include everything from a girl making her sister’s bed to someone’s prescription being paid for at Walgreens; as well as a local company giving five cards and five ten dollar bills to each of its employees, asking them to go out and “bless some people.”  One individual attached Meijer gift cards to 44 PIF cards and handed them out at thrift stores and an Aldi’s Grocery Store. A 5th grade teacher in Philadelphia, teaching lessons on character, requested cards for each of her students and then followed up with all of the things they did to Pay It Forward, like taking out the neighbors trash, picking up an elderly neighbors mail and helping a blind woman on to a bus. Big or small, these acts of kindness have been an inspiration and a terrific reflection on one small Michigan town.

The story had a very unique beginning, brought about by a little press, a wonderful woman in Brooklyn, NY and then an entire community of caring people in the City of Holland.  The CVB did not start this journey but is happy to keep it going with the manpower to follow-up, print cards, and the hope that it the idea continues for years to come . . .

In 2000, Holland also commissioned a local artist (Carolyn Stich) to create a “Holland-centric” Christmas card. In 2013 the proceeds from the cards began to be donated annually to one local non-profit or organization that could use a “boost”. The funds went to the Windmill Island Restoration Fund (2013), Part Theatre Capital Campaign (2014), Project Clarity (2015) and Friends of VanRaalte Farm- home of the Civil War Muster (2016).

(Submitted by Sally Laukitis, Executive Director Holland Area Convention & Visitors Bureau)

We are in awe of the continuation of this project and are proud of the efforts of Holland CVB. From one profit to another, Michigan Cares for Tourism says thank you for contributing to the betterment of society.


Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau (Frankenmuth, MI)

Though Frankenmuth, Michigan is home to less than 5,000 people, the outpouring of volunteerism found in the professional staff of the Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau is incredible.

Jamie Furbush (President/CEO of the CVB) says “As an organization, we encourage and welcome our whole team to volunteer as a way to give back. Volunteering helps sustain the wonderful, quality events with people that are passionate about creating an experience. We (the CVB) must be willing to give our time and have our employees do the same. It creates a culture.”



This idea of philanthropy stems through the community of Frankenmuth and is deeply supported through the town’s businesses and companies. With encouragement of their team to be active in community service clubs and committees, the Frankenmuth CVB has a presence of giving time and effort to local events.

“Without the people, all the great things in our community could not happen. Our role, as ‘events people’ requires a lot of work to be executed. We know that if we want to have the outcome, we must be willing to do the work.”

Frankenmuth CVB sets the bar high for the creation of an organizational philosophy lived out through the volunteering efforts of their employees. Michigan Cares for Tourism congratulates Frankenmuth CVB and the people who work and live with this passion!



FireKeepers Casino: The Fire Hub (Battle Creek, MI)


With constant growing societal needs, innovation remains an essential component to purposeful philanthropy. As a non-profit focused within the tourism industry, Michigan Cares for Tourism appreciates the amazing efforts of our partners and their resourceful and inventive ways to give back. FireKeepers Casino is taking part and playing a role in the improvement of community health and wellness, financial stability and food security…and to that we say GREAT JOB!

In the spring of 2017, FireKeepers Casino will open its very own restaurant: “The Fire Hub”, located at Fire Station #4 on the corner of Kendall Street and Dickman Road in Battle Creek. This will be a unique community investment which is part restaurant, part food pantry. “This initiative creates multiple different avenues for FireKeepers to improve lives and creates a new culinary option in downtown Battle Creek. We are really excited about this new endeavor and eagerly anticipate an early 2017 Grand Opening.” -Jen Ozolins (Head Chef of The Fire Hub)

The Fire Hub is a truly one-of-a-kind non-profit investment. Large gardens will grow food for free salad bars at local schools and a food pantry will give those in need a dignified grocery shopping experience. The main goal of this new endeavor? To give back to the community! The food pantry, gardens and profits will contribute to the people of Battle Creek. 80% of the restaurant’s profits and 50 cents from every restaurant check will support local charities, leaving 20% to be reinvested directly back into the property and the building upkeep. This project contributes to multiple aspects of Corporate Social Responsibility, one that hopefully inspires other businesses and organizations within the industry.

Learn more on their website:

Corporate Social Responsibility

What is corporate social responsibility (CSR)? And who is responsible for it?

Financial Times has coined CSR as “a movement aimed at encouraging companies to be more aware of the impact of their business on the rest of society, including their own stakeholders and the environment”.


Michigan Cares for Tourism is fortunate to have the support of many like-minded people and businesses who believe in the values of CSR, even though the term may be foreign. CSR is displayed in many ways in the hospitality and tourism industry. Human rights, corporate governance, health/safety, environmental effects, working conditions and contribution to economic development are typically highlighted as the main themes of CSR.

No matter how you define it, the purpose  of CSR is to push a group or business towards increased sustainability…for its employees, its products, the surrounding community and the consumers. We are proud to be supported and inspired by so many Michigan organizations that believe in this purpose.

Michigan Cares for Tourism would like to take the opportunity to highlight how our partners are making a difference and share their unique stories of giving back. Be on the lookout for more stories in the coming weeks! If you are interested in sharing you/your business’ story, please contact