Voluntary RE:action

sponsored by Grand Rapids Community Foundation 

Volunteer Spotlight: Caroline Cook

Giving Grand Rapids Visitors the Run-Around

voluntary-reaction caroline cook

Caroline Cook, in the middle with sunglasses, gathers with a group of her Grand Rapids Running Tours’ Companions.


Catch her if you can.

And when you do, be sure to ask Caroline Cook to educate you about the inspiring new Encore chapter in her life –sponsoring tours of Grand Rapids where participants don’t use a bus, auto, taxi, scooter, rickshaw, skateboard or anything else with wheels.

You run!

Yep–your legs are your locomotion. And while you’re getting a healthy workout, you’re also getting a glimpse into the history of Grand Rapids.

After graduating with a degree in advertising from Michigan State University in 1982–where she was also a varsity cheerleader–Caroline worked in the paper products industry and restaurants before joining her husband Jeffrey in his family business, Southwestern Oil Co.

They raised two children while living mostly in Greenville, but now the couple lives in Grand Rapids. Remembering that her Aunt Harriet Cook considered Caroline someone who “would bloom wherever I was planted,” she seized on the idea of a tour company designed for runners.

“I wiped the slate clean, because I wanted to do something fun for my Encore,” says Caroline, who hired on at Gazelle Sports and fell into the running mania. She accelerated that gig into “Grand Rapids Running Tours,” an enterprise whereby she solicits runners from near and far to strike out on a casual run that she personally conducts.

Her Facebook page reflects a host of fun runs that also inform–a “Lapping the Landmarks” run that features historical focal points, an “Art Dart” that celebrates personal expression, a “Steeple Chase” run that captures churches and a haunted run to acquaint runners with spooky sites you might not want to visit in nighttime.

Typically, runners pay a flat fee of $20 for a tour that covers about three miles, sometimes more. Group rates bring that price down and you can discover more, register and learn about payment options at www.grandrapidsrunningtours.com.

Caroline had a lot of traditional jobs in her 55 years, but she considers GR Running Tours especially satisfying because it’s a business venture that invests in people and their health, as well as her love of Grand Rapids.

“You go through life in chapters,” she says,.“ I truly believe the philosophy that your life is a tapestry and you’re constantly weaving different squares. I wouldn’t want my life to be just one square. I like lots of different chapters!”

Local Volunteer Opportunities

Your opportunity awaits. Pick a role and react voluntarily.

The Artist

Use your artistic knowledge to promote creativity by teaching an adult art class at Artists Creating Together. Expand your abilities by picking up a few techniques and tips along the way.

Take Action: Fill out an online volunteer application at www.artistscreatingtogether.org/volunteer or contact Becky Baker, programs coordinator, at (616) 885-5866 or by email at coordinator@artistscreatingtogether.org

The Sidekick

At the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding, both riders and volunteers learn the ins and outs of equine therapy. Become a horse leader or walk alongside the horse as participants complete their therapy sessions. Volunteers also have an opportunity to groom, feed and prep the horses for riding.

Take Action: To become a volunteer, call the Equest Center at (616) 866-3066.

The Blogger

Are you a Grand Valley State University alumnus? Share your college stories with other GVSU graduates in the area by guest blogging on the GVSU LinkedIn and Twitter pages. Provide tips on how to network, the best way to get a job in your field or document travel experiences. Browse the posts from other bloggers and gather new tips of your own.

Take Action: For more information on how to contribute, email barbeec@gvsu.edu.

The Photographer

Do you have an eye for detail? Take your talents to Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and become a volunteer photographer. The organization is in need of beautiful images of parks or events happening in the parks to spice up their website and promotional materials.

Take Action: To become a volunteer, contact Rachel Skylis, PAL Program and volunteer coordinator, at rachel@friendsofgrparks.org.

The Traveler

Join the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Western Michigan University and take a mini-vacation while contributing your time to an educational cause. By becoming a travel volunteer, you can help plan diverse day and overnight trips for program participants, assist with logistics and serve as a trip escort.

Take Action: To get involved, contact Shirley Swanson, Osher Lifelong Learning director, at (269) 387-4206.

The Career Coach

Empower other women and encourage their success by volunteering at the Women’s Resource Center in Grand Rapids. Bring along your resume and use it as a template to help other women fine-tune their own resumes to get the job they want.

Take Action: To become a volunteer, contact the Women’s Resource Center at (616) 458-5443.

The Backstage Hand

At stageGR, opportunities for community education are created through compelling performances. To make productions run smoothly, volunteers are always needed to complete behind-the-scenes tasks, including wardrobe, make-up, props, scene changes and cast logistics. Enjoy enriching musicals and plays while learning a bit more about inclusion and equality.

Take Action: To become a volunteer, contact stageGR at info@stagegr.org




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