When Central Michigan University junior Lauren Wenban began studying hospitality, she never imagined she would end up managing a facility for cancer patients and their families. This summer, however, that's exactly what she did.
CMU's hospitality program has been involved with the facility –
Hospitality House at McLaren – since its inception. The $8 million facility was designed for people traveling long distances to receive Proton Beam Therapy, the most effective form of radiation treatment available for cancerous solid tumors. The treatment is administered at McLaren's new
Proton Therapy Center in Flint.
"This therapy is very unique, and treatment is divided up over several weeks," Teresa Williams, director of hospitality services for McLaren Flint, said. "Half of the patients will come from more than two hours away so they and their families need a place to stay. That's what we provide."
The Proton Therapy Clinic is one of only 13 of its kind in the nation and the only proton treatment center in the world with cone beam CT, to create an immediate 3D image of the treatment area.
Wenban, of Midland, and senior Katy Short from Fremont, Indiana, both hospitality services administration majors, have lived in the facility all summer, covering opposite shifts to run the day-to-day operations of the house.
"Katie and I are the resident managers," Wenban said. "We have an apartment here' and we basically run the place. We check guests in, clean rooms, we do a little bit of everything while we're here."
The CMU students also organize programming for the guests such as yoga, Zumba and patient well-being workshops; plan and execute conferences; and even dabble in fundraising.
Connecting beyond the front desk
"One of the cool things about being here is that guests stay here for a longer period of time so you get to spend time with them and get to know them," Wenban said.
Wenban recently connected with two families – both in similar situations – with daughters who were treated at the hospital and ended up passing away.
"I was actually the person who introduced the two families to each other, and they were able to share their stories with each other," she said. "While they were both going through a difficult time, it was nice to know they could talk with somebody else who was going through the same thing with them."
Wenban said she made a connection with one of the mothers and that they had a strong impact on each other.
"I decided to write her a letter thanking her for letting me into her life and for sharing her story with me," she said. "She was just so thankful for everything we've done here and for the support we provided."
Preparation for the hospitality industry
CMU hospitality professor Gary Gagnon considers the partnership between CMU and McLaren, which he helped develop, invaluable.
"The McLaren Hospitality House partnership has proven to be the best internship experience for aspiring hospitality mangers that I have been associated with in my 20 years advising students," he said. "The interns are empowered and are given a great deal of real-world responsibility."
Williams, who leads the facility's operations, also says the experience helps to prepare the students for their future careers.
"This exposes them to the reality of running a small hotel," Williams said. "This is a great opportunity for the students to get their feet wet and grow as hospitality professionals."
Jenny Weingartz, a December 2014 graduate of CMU, spent two semesters working at the Hospitality House. Now managing a hotel in the Detroit area, she credits her experience at the Hospitality House for preparing her in many ways for her career.
"The biggest thing I took away from that experience was the responsibility and confidence," Weingartz said. "I was there by myself for weekends in this huge house and had to make sure everything was running and locked and everyone was safe. That definitely helped me realize what I can do with hospitality and has definitely made me better at my new job as a manager."