A whole slew of generous hotels across the United States are participating in this very cool Give a Day, Get a Night program — if you give eight hours of community service to a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization, you can stay overnight at a participating hotel — for free! Sounds too good to be true, but I tried it. And it’s for real!
To qualify, your volunteer hours have to be completed between July 1, 2009 and March 29, 2010. You call a participating hotel, tell them when you want your complimentary room, and then all you have to do is show up at check-in with a letter on non-profit letterhead verifying your eight hours of unpaid volunteer service, and…you’re in!
Hanni and I volunteer for a literacy program called Sit! Stay! Read!, and the volunteer coordinator was happy to provide me with the letterhead note I needed. Hotels in San Diego, Portland, Denver, Las Vegas, Tucson and countless other cities participate in the program, but I decided to stay right close to home. I booked a room at the Blackstone, a 99-year-old four-star hotel on Michigan Avenue that was recently renovated. Here’s a description from a magazine called “Hotels:
The extensive nature of the renovation shows in many of the details, including the richly detailed brass wall sconces that McHugh refinished in many public areas. When originals could not be salvaged, the team worked with specialty contractors to cast molds to create duplicates. In other historic portions of the hotel, McHugh removed decades-old carpeting to find that the marble floors underneath had been damaged by carpet tacks. Fortunately, the team was able to repair the floors by salvaging the hard-to-match marble from other areas of the hotel where it would not be visible.
While large-scale reconstruction of a century-old building is bound to turn up unexpected issues, the most significant one was positive, said Brian Hardy, McHugh’s project manager for the Blackstone work. “The biggest surprise of the building was that it is unbelievably well built,” Hardy said. “It’s extremely sound, structurally.”
I can vouch for that soundness — I somehow managed to bang my forehead on one of those structurally-sound surfaces in our room. Ouch! Not to worry – the room service folks deliver ice to each room every night, you know, when they bring your bedtime chocolates!
I wondered how I’d be received–staying free, and all–but the Blackstone staff knew exactly what the Give a Day, Get a Night program was all about, and they seemed tickled that someone was taking them up on the offer. Hanni and I were treated like gold; so many of the staff helped us out in oh so many ways. One of them, named Arturo, was especially kind. He escorted Hanni and me all the way to the nearby Starbucks to pick up our morning coffee, stayed with us as we ordered, held my coffee cup as we got back into the hotel elevator and accompanied us all the way to the sixth floor.
Arturo marveled when Hanni led us off the elevator and guided us right to room #610. We had fun discussing how Seeing Eye dogs are trained, when it’s okay to pet them and when it’s not, stuff like that. Before he left I fished in my wallet for a tip, but Arturo refused the money. “This was my pleasure,” he insisted.
But the pleasure was all mine. A big thank-you to the Blackstone and to Sage Hotels for sponsoring this generous program. And an especially huge thank-you goes out to Sit! Stay! Read! for giving Hanni and me the privilege of volunteering.