September 13, 2019

Michigan nonprofits auction off one of the state’s most precious assets—a million-dollar view

Here are three stories to inspire you as you head into the weekend.

Twenty-five lucky nonprofits get to raffle off a "Pure Michigan" experience: a trek to the top of the Mackinac Bridge. Photo by Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. This week, a creative way to fundraise in Michigan, a successful free lunch program in Massachusetts, and a new approach to rural healthcare in Tennessee. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tell us at

Sky-high for a cause: A Michigan agency is leveraging one of its most precious assets—a glorious view—to benefit area nonprofits. Every year, the Mackinac Bridge Authority, operators of one of the longest suspension bridges in the U.S, raffles off tower passes to 25 local organizations. The lucky nonprofits receive a tour certificate they can auction off to support the programs that help their communities thrive. Each pass is good for two people to ascend the tower and take in the spectacular views of what the state tourism board calls, “Pure Michigan.”

One of this year’s winners is Leelanau Christian Neighbors, a nonprofit located in the “pinkie” of Michigan’s “mitten,” which just accepted its winning bid of $5,000. Executive Director Mary Stanton says the money will all go back into the community: a food pantry, baby pantry, and a financial assistance program. “We need lots of money to do what we do,” she told 9&10 News.

Why are these views worth the money? The bridge connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and spans 5 miles across the Straits of Mackinac. (There’s a live cam!) The tower rises 552 feet above the water (for reference, the St. Louis Gateway Arch is 630 feet). If you’re facing north, to your right is Lake Huron and two your left is Lake Michigan. It’s the only spot in the world where you can see such a view of two Great Lakes at once.

The power of breakfast: Four years ago, Springfield Public Schools in Massachusetts began providing breakfast in the classroom. The school district previously offered a standard free meal program for all students in the cafeteria, but they found that students who qualified only participated at a 23 percent rate. Why? A serving time before school started meant students often missed the meal. Additionally, some students were bullied for receiving free breakfast.

So the school district decided to serve breakfast—an egg sandwich, a muffin, and a fruit cup—in the classroom to reduce the stigma surrounding free meal programs. With the change, the school district found that participation rose to 80 percent.

“Food is a basic need. Kids need food to live and survive. They also need to have food in their bellies to learn,” Patrick Roach, chief financial and operations officer at Springfield Public Schools told Route Fifty.

Rural wellness: Tennessee is taking steps to address rural health issues that affect their state as well as communities across the country. East Tennessee State University announced its College of Public Health will house the new Center for Rural Health Research. The center will be looking at health outcomes in rural communities as well as healthcare deliveries—how people receive adequate care. The state has approved a first-year grant of $1.5 million, as well as $750,000 annually, and Ballad Health has pledged $15 million over 10 years. Randy Wykoff, dean of the college, estimates the opening of the center within a year.

Located in Johnson City in southern Appalachia, the center is positioned to focus on issues that affect its community and others like it. Appalachia has higher mortality rates than the nation as a whole. It also has fewer primary care physicians per 100,000 residents than the national average.

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project, made possible by Allstate, tells the stories of individuals and organizations who are solving problems in their communities.