New online program to benefit local charities and businesses

Entrepreneur Cameron Clark shows off his new web site called Hometown Giving. He developed the site to allow people the opportunity to help local charities, non-profits and small businesses from this area. People can go to the site and purchase a gift certificate from a local small business or make a donation to a non-profit or charity.

Entrepreneur Cameron Clark shows off his new web site called Hometown Giving. He developed the site to allow people the opportunity to help local charities, non-profits and small businesses from this area. People can go to the site and purchase a gift certificate from a local small business or make a donation to a non-profit or charity.

Cameron Clark has never been a person who likes to follow the crowd.

During his seven years as a social worker in Manistee and 10 years as director of CASMAN Alternative Academy he was known for one thing — thinking outside the box. It is a thought process that may lead Clark to his most innovative idea yet.

Clark is in the process of developing an online program called Hometown Giving that he feels will bring the small town spirit back from the commercialized world of today. The concept was formulated during his many travels in his job as an education consultant with K-12 Education.

“This is a project that began very soon after I left CASMAN,” said Clark. “I have been traveling the state and have been spending a lot of time in the Upper Penninsula and Detroit areas,” he said. “During all that driving time you have a lot of time to think and it started me wondering what is the mark I can make in this world.

He has always had a fond spot in his heart for small town businesses atmosphere along with the caring spirit you only find in local charities and non-profits.

“My passions are I grew up the son of small business people up in Beulah and my career at CASMAN was spent a lot working in the non-profit charitable sector,” he said.

Clark said he saw how his parents struggled to compete with the oncoming big box stores and national companies. It was a struggle that left him a little bitter as he said nothing matches the personalized attention you get from a small town business.

“That always kind of stuck in my craw,” he said. “At the same time working in Manistee with CASMAN and all the organizations that they worked with like the Human Services Collaborative and things of that nature. So, I got to fall in love with the hard work people were doing to help the citizens in Manistee.”

He said the best way to describe what he came up with was a virtual mall called Hometown Giving.

“What it does is allow a person give to family, friends, co-workers a hometown gift certificate,” he said. “The recipient gets to go online at hometown-giving.com and redeem it at any small business, charity or non-profit of their choice. So no longer as the giver of the gift do you have to know what they want for a gift. The certificate allows the recipient to make that decision.”

He said what it all boils down to is it gives the recipient of the certificate the ability to support their small town in any way they would like. It can be by supporting a local business or charity.

“It is really a way of tying all my passions together in one very simple website,” he said. “It is designed to drive business to our small downtown areas or artists, crafts people and the local charities.”

He said the site will be limited to strictly small businesses and local charities. He doesn’t want the national retailers or big chain stores.

Manistee County Child Advocacy Center director Traci Smith said she thinks Hometown Giving has tremendous potential. Their organization was one of the first to be listed on the new site.

“I think this will help us tremendously,” said Smith. “All of the donations we get go right into services to help kids who are victims of child abuse. We hope it will take off and benefit our group. It seems really simple for those who want to make a donation to a local non-profit. So we really appreciate Cameron putting everything together.”

Clark said something that also spurred this idea is what he has witnessed in his travels. There were times he pointed out that it was difficult to tell what part of the state he was in at that time.

“As I have traveled the state I have not enjoyed the increasing difficulty in telling what town I am coming into because they have become homogenized,” he said. “This website is going to be only for our local businesses, craftspeople, artisans and charities that give our communities their unique flavor. I don’t want to lose that and this is a way to really support them in their struggles.”

He said the new website hometown-giving.com is up and running, but they are in the very infancy stages of the project. Some businesses and charities have already signed on and the initiative right now is for northwest lower Michigan from Ludington to the Straights of Mackinac to eventually be included on the site. For now, it mainly focuses on Manistee and Benzie counties.

Those businesses and charities can put connections to their regular web pages on the new website and it will direct the public to those locations.

“When someone decides to give a gift they can do so by using a credit card and then attach an email of the recipient,” he said. “The gift recipient will then receive an email seeing they have been given a gift on Hometown Giving. They can then go online to redeem the gift certificate that they can print out and use. If you get like a $50 certificate you could spend like $20 in one place and $30 in another or whatever. You can even give part of it to charity and spend the rest at a business.”

Another part of the concept is someone like grandparents could be living in another state and go online to give their loved one certificate from a Manistee business without having to come to Manistee to purchase it. That way the local business profits instead of a gift being bought in another state and mailed to Manistee.

He said some things are still being fine tuned, but early returns are showing a positive response from the community.

“The way it works for businesses is they pay a $75 fee membership to be on the site,” he said. “Of that $75, I ask them how they want me to give $25 to a local charity, so there is another tie between the two.”

He said charieties and non-profits get to be listed on the site at no cost. He said they are presently marketing the whole concept.

“Anyone can either got to hometown-giving.com or to our Facebook page which is Hometown Giving, so either way they can find out the information on how to become a part of it,” said Clark.

He said the possibilities are endless.

“I have tried to think it through and have had some very good people work with me on it,” he said.

He said they have developed a tag line that “you can do this anytime from anywhere.”

“It is convenient and people have told me they get anxious about finding the perfect gift for someone,”he said. “That is especially true around the holidays. They might say I have enough stuff and the better way is to share this with some local charities.”

What Clark hopes more than anything is this will keep alive the small town spirit that makes each and every community unique.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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