Grand Blanc, MI—At the intersection of South Saginaw Street and Holly Road, just across the street from Grand Blanc Community High School, Mindy Williams is camping out on the roof of a McDonald’s.  

Far from losing her way on the route to a Michigan campsite, Williams, the President and CEO of Whaley Children’s Center in Flint, intentionally spends three days on this rooftop each year to raise funds for the 42 children in the center’s care.

The idea came from a radio station fundraiser Williams remembered from her childhood. “I grew up around here in the ’90s,” she said, and at the time a local station, 105.5, would do a “billboard stand-up” where a host would hang out on the station’s billboard to raise funds for charity.

Volunteers post up outside of the Grand Blanc McDonalds oN July 15, 2021 to raise money for the Whaley Childrens Center. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

So, when Williams joined the Whaley team and learned she didn’t have enough funding for their children to go back-to-school shopping, she knew just what to do.

“I really wanted a billboard,” Williams said, “but they were like, eh, insurance. It’s like 20 years later. They’re not gonna let us do that.”

But the radio station Williams contacted did connect her to the then-owners of the South Saginaw Street McDonald’s, and so began the Whaley Children’s Center’s “roofsit” fundraiser, now in its sixth year.

While Williams camps atop the building, volunteers and staff stand below to collect change and checks from drive-thru customers and lunch-goers. There is a lot of smiling, gratitude, and even some unexpected help.

A scissor lift is used to hoist people up to the rooftop where the President and CEO of the Whaley Childrens Center and Cars 108 Morning Show hosts have been camping out to raise awareness and funds for the center on July 15, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“We had the cheer team,” said Dawn Wisner, Whaley Children’s Center’s director of development. “We had the high school football team out here. The coach was out here.” 

Wilsner was grateful for the support, as she and other Whaley staff also run a makeshift operations center from booths in the McDonald’s play area between shifts outside. 

Back on the roof, Williams has some welcome company this year. Radio host Clay Church and his co-host Lisa Marie Szukhent from Cars 108 have added their tents to the CEO’s unconventional campsite.

The radio hosts are broadcasting their morning show from the franchise location’s roof, having brought along a soundboard, microphones, and a pop-up tent to tuck their equipment under.

For Church, who was the man behind the billboard fundraiser that inspired Williams some 20 years ago, the biggest surprise in joining his friend on the roof is perhaps no surprise at all.

“The generosity,” Church said from the radio program’s tent. “I mean you know people are going to donate … but to see somebody come through and drop off a $4,000 check … to see a kid riding his bike from work drop his tips from his job in one of the buckets, it’s still going to be surprising and inspirational.”

For Szukhent, the best part of her rooftop stay is seeing the benefit for children on both ends of the fundraiser.

“I love when the little kids pull up, you know, their parents pull up and they roll down the back window,” she said. “They drop a dollar in the bucket and they’re beaming ear to ear because they’ve been told they’re helping somebody.”

The first Whaley Children’s Center’s “roofsit” raised $10,000. Last year, even with COVID protocols in place, the fundraiser raised around $75,000.

This year’s total is not yet certain. Williams and the Cars 108 team will be on the roof of the Grand Blanc McDonald’s, pending unsafe weather conditions, until 10 A.M. on Friday, July 16.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....