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Volunteers join ambassador effort to boost Calhoun County tourism

MARSHALL – Oaklawn’s volunteers are extending their impact through a Calhoun County program designed to make the region an increasingly welcome destination for visitors.

Oaklawn representatives and volunteers from several regional organizations met recently at the Albion Courtyard by Marriott hotel for a class intended to endow the participants’ certification as “tourism ambassadors.”

“To date, we have 115 Certified Tourism Ambassadors – called CTAs – representing 38 area businesses or organizations,” said Kimber Thompson, marketing manager at the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau, which brings this nationally-recognized program to our area.

One of the recent participants is Leta Morris of Marshall, who serves as Oaklawn’s pet therapy coordinator and was part of a contingent of Oaklawn volunteers who attended the class in March.

“There will be times when a visitor may ask for directions, where to eat, about lodging, or entertainment in the area,” Morris said.

“The part of the program I will use most when volunteering at Oaklawn will be exceeding customers expectations,” Morris said. “I have seen countless examples of this displayed by the staff at Oaklawn and want to always get it right myself.”

Morris works with Lady Anne, a highly charismatic Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who spreads joy among patients at the hospital during regular visits supervised by Oaklawn Pet Therapy.

“I am privileged to volunteer at Oaklawn with my therapy dog, Daffney Rose, a King Charles spaniel” said Victoria Templeton of Homer Township. She and her dog also visit patients at the hospital, focusing on the psychiatric, maternity, medical surgery, critical care and oncology departments.

“I found the course informative as to available happenings, events, festivals, lodging, eateries, and arts and entertainment in Calhoun County,” Templeton said.

“I mostly benefited from the discussions involving making any experience in Calhoun County an enjoyable, positive one with the desire to return,” Templeton said. “Great service and personal involvement is a must for an optimum experience.”

Shawn Chrispyn, a volunteer with the Oaklawn Auxiliary, said she plans to put the training to use right away.

“I appreciate being chosen for this wonderful opportunity to serve Calhoun County,” said Chrispyn, who lives in Emmett Township. “I took the training because of the love I have for people and my compassionate spirit to serve the public.”

“The next time I’m out and about, my smiling face will attract those with questions or needing directions,” she said.

Morris, Templeton, Chrispyn and other Oaklawn volunteers attended the CCVB’s class at the new Courtyard by Marriott Albion hotel, which also drew representatives of the hotel, Schuler’s Restaurant & Pub in Marshall, Battle Creek-based Historic Adventist Village and the Battle Creek Recreation Department.

“Since our certification is for our whole county, we travel the class to different venues so it can, hopefully, be easily reached by anyone who wants to participate,” Thompson said. “It also gives our students a chance to explore what might be a new or unknown destination to them.”

“Our current CTAs represent the area welcome centers and chambers of commerce, Fire-Keepers Casino Hotel, Kellogg Arena, Marshall District Library, Homer Historical Society, Albion College, the Calhoun County Agricultural Industrial Society at the Marshall fairgrounds, and several hotels, among others,” Thompson said.

The CCVB’s goal is to certify 300 CTAs by the end of this year. Certification costs $25, and scholarships are available.

“The material covers main areas — the power and impact of tourism, the history of our whole area and our current attractions, how to find answers to questions visitors ask, and finally how to give exceptional customer service,” Thompson said. “Past participants have said that their favorite part has been learning about our area.”

Those interested in attending a CTA class may contact Thompson at (269) 967-1987 or

Future classes are planned April 19 at Station 66 in Battle Creek; May 22 at McCamly Plaza Hotel in Battle Creek; June 28 at Ludington Center in Albion; July 24 at Leila Arboretum in Battle Creek; Aug. 22 at Cornwell’s Turkeyville in Marshall; Sept. 18 at Clara’s on the River in Battle Creek; Oct. 16 at Hampton Inn in Marshall; and Nov. 28 at Courtyard Hotel in Battle Creek.

The program requires participants to study materials that in part cover the history of Calhoun County and its attractions, attend a six-hour training session and pass an open-book exam at the conclusion of the class.

“Calhoun County residents already understand the array of fun-filled activities, historical sites, nature trails, restaurants and special events the region offers,” said Richard Lindsey, Oaklawn’s executive director of legal and community affairs. “The goal is to help other people learn more about them.”

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