Feature image photos by Becky Bewick (@beverly1717), Joanna Cortes (@joanna84c), Marianne Lee (@mariannejean61), Molly McGuire (@mmcguirl.photography), and Christine Olson (@colson6933)
When South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority (CVA) recently created its ambassador program, the intention was to give those who were already out there creating, exploring, and capturing the beauty of the Region a space to encourage others to do the same. These intentions have since grown into a group of eight dedicated, adventurous souls who love spending their time sharing about the good here in Northwest Indiana and representing what makes South Shore CVA’s efforts of showcasing the Region so special.
Erika Dahl, Director of Communications for South Shore CVA, emphasized how visitors are always looking for things to do, and these ambassadors are simply everyday people who are sharing about those exact things that visitors can do.
“Studies show that visitors looking for things to do and places to visit and eat are influenced by reviews, photos, and opinions of other visitors more so than a website or social media post directly from the establishment,” said Dahl. “By capturing the ambassadors’ experiences and elevating their voices, we can help other visitors choose places to go to and things to do.”
If there’s one thing that all these ambassadors share, it is their love and complete appreciation for the nature and beauty that fills our communities here in Northwest Indiana. They are each on their own unique journey to explore and adventure the different paths, beach spots, restaurants, parks, hiking trails, and so much more that connect every city in the Region. Best of all, their perspectives are shared through their photos, videos, and blogs and can be found on their social media, radio shows, or magazines.
“Each ambassador reflects a different type of traveler, so you can find itineraries for couples, groups of friends, and families, as well as our furry ambassador for dog-friendly experiences,” said Dahl.
To provide more specific detail about what makes these ambassadors and their work so special, South Shore CVA wanted to share a brief introduction to each of them, their interests, and their day-to-day activities for the program here!
Born and raised in Valparaiso, Becky Bewick has always been a photographer and artist. Functioning not only as her passion but also her stress reliever, art is her outlet to showcase her creativity. As a Northwest Indiana native, her favorite way to capture art is through the outdoors, and more specifically, through the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Lake Michigan. For Bewick, there is ample beauty to capture in every direction you look.
Aside from art, Bewick is also a proud mom. Her daughter is an equestrian competitor who Bewick enjoys supporting and watching. When she is not spending time with her family, Bewick is gardening, adventuring, or enjoying the outdoors.
As a Chesterton resident, Karen Cercone loves living here in the Region with her husband, daughter, son, and two fur babies. She enjoys spending time with her bunch outdoors, whether it be hiking, kayaking, or watching the sunset. Since they live just four short miles away from the Lake Michigan shore, being able to enjoy its beauty is easy.
Aside from enjoying nature, Cercone also loves visiting the many tasty spots to eat and drink around Northwest Indiana. No matter the adventure, Cercone is always capturing her experiences on her phone and using photography as a way to appreciate the things around her.
In her professional career, Cercone is a nurse practitioner and notes that being able to care for her fellow community members is a rewarding feeling.
Though she is a native of Poland, Joanna Cortes now finds herself residing in La Porte with her husband and daughter. Like most other South Shore CVA ambassadors, Cortes loves spending her time appreciating nature. As someone who works four days on and four days off, Cortes enjoys spending those days off exploring outside with her daughter, who is a high school senior. Whether it is hiking, camping, biking, kayaking, or watching the sunset on the beach, Cortes can usually be found spending her time in the fresh air.
Cortes also loves to pull her camera out to make the beauty of nature a lasting memory. For the past few years, Cortes has really enjoyed becoming more involved in photography as she is motivated to capture everything she sees.
She does not go on these adventures alone, though. Cortes is often joined by her husband and friends on her adventures where she is always wanting to try something new.
For the entirety of her life, Marianne Lee has been a Northwest Indiana resident. Like most nature lovers here in the Region, Lee recognizes that there is so much to discover and adventure through. She is a lover of biking and finds that she could spend hours cruising the endless stretches of trails or following the paths along Lake Michigan.
“I’ve always loved exploring and taking pictures, and these skills fit in perfectly in our social media world,” said Lee. “The rusty bike bridges along Erie Lackawanna and Oak Savannah Trails with blooming fields of wildflowers behind them is an example of the unexpected beauty of the Region. That’s usually when I will hop off of my bike for a photo shoot.”
For Lee, she finds the historic development of the parks and monuments to be most intriguing. Her view from the bike seat is her favorite position to explore from, not to mention the added benefits of exercise and fresh air, something she calls “wind therapy.”
“One of my favorite things in the world to do is get on my bike and hit the area bike trails. There’s so much beauty all around us, and some things you can only experience from the back of a bike,” said Lee. “When I pedal past Lake George in Whiting, I see beautiful wildflowers, lotus blooming, and swans swimming on the lake with the juxtaposition of BP Amoco’s smokestacks in the background. Even urban decay such as the dilapidated Methodist Church in Gary can be a beautiful reminder of our past.”
In her professional career, Lee helps local high school students with math, making an impact on the lives of future generations. Outside of work and biking, she also really enjoys working in her garden, crocheting, taking photos of her adventures, traveling, and sharing her experiences with those around her.
By default, Kara Mackey is an incredibly curious person, which aids her well in her role as a mother. Professionally, Mackey manages Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Center, located at Three Rivers County Park. Mackey is also involved in the Lake County Purdue Extension’s Mini 4-H program.
Mackey’s husband is a theatre teacher, and the two love being creative together as they raise their two children. She is the creator of the blog “The Dirt on Kids,” where she shares about her experiences as a mother and discusses all things parenting, playing, and kids, and gives her recommendations on all of the above. Outside of her busy life with her kids, Mackey enjoys being outside in nature, doing yoga, reading books, and quite simply, creating!
Molly, Conan, and Bentley McGuirl
As a Northwest Indiana native, Molly McGuire feels fortunate to have grown up in such a beautiful area, especially with Lake Michigan right across the street from her. Becoming an ambassador just made sense for her and her passions.
“Now that I am older, I try to find ways to participate and give back to the place that gave me such a great childhood,” said McGuire. “When the opportunity of becoming an ambassador transpired, I thought, ‘Perfect! Now I can use my photography and adventures to promote and show everyone how great it is to live here.’”
A mom to her sweet pups Conan the Corgi and Bentley the Bud, McGuire is your average mom and dog trio that is constantly searching for new trails to hike each day. The two pups also love spending time with their dog dad, McGuire’s husband. They enjoy playing tag, chasing rabbits, and eating treats of all kinds.
“Two of my favorite hobbies are hiking with my pooches and photography, so I love showcasing all the trails around Indiana Dunes,” said McGuire. “Most people tend to just hit the trails around the beach, but there is so much more out there. Being an ambassador has motivated me to explore newly-discovered places and enjoy some great experiences. In addition, taking my dogs along helps people see there are plenty of areas they can take their own fur babies out to explore.”
For work, McGuire is a part-time registered dental hygienist and photographer. She loves that photography allows her to capture beautiful moments and showcase the awesome places for eating, hiking, and adventuring around Northwest Indiana. Supporting local restaurants and giving back to the community that she is a part of is key for her.
“I also enjoy promoting local restaurants in the area. Supporting local businesses is important to me, so if a little promotion on my end can be of any assistance, I am all for it."
Though her journey as a mother began in the south suburbs of Chicago, Christine Olson and her husband relocated to be residents here in Northwest Indiana in 2019 on their quest for new adventures. When she first moved, she found herself scrolling through South Shore CVA’s website in search of places to visit in her new hometown.
Their first summer featured plenty of action with them attending things like South Shore Rocks’ concerts in the park and festivals like Pierogi Fest, visiting local restaurants and breweries to enjoy tasty food and drinks, hopping on the bicycle trails, or enjoying the scenery and views at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
“I was motivated to apply to become an ambassador because it gives me an opportunity to seek out adventures and share them with fellow Hoosiers, as well as those who visit the South Shore area,” said Olson. “I was excited to see the post searching for South Shore ambassadors and applied the same day. I was honored to be chosen in February of 2021.”
Though her adventures in the Region are now few and far between with the COVID-19 pandemic, Olson finds herself still enjoying the little things like ordering carryout and growlers of beer from her and her husband's favorite local eateries. The outdoors is nothing short of fun during the pandemic as well, and thankfully for Olson, Northwest Indiana has countless spots for adventuring and enjoying nature.
“As COVID-19 state restrictions have been lifted, I look forward to enjoying concerts in the park, festivals (yum pierogies!), Indiana Dunes, casinos, bicycle trails, great restaurants, and even more amazing breweries,” said Olson. “I love craft beer and my new hometown along the South Shore!
As a lover of adventures, Breanne Stover holds many titles, including mother, wife, entrepreneur, hometown girl, and of course, South Shore CVA ambassador.
As a mother to six children, Stover’s life is undoubtedly busy. Her goal each day is to spend as much time as possible being happy, staying healthy, and having fun with her family. To achieve this, Stover has become more comfortable with letting go of the idea of planning; instead, it’s important to her that she enjoys every little moment as it comes and making even the difficult experiences positive. As an ambassador, Stover loves sharing her tips as a parent and learning from others’ perspectives in the area.
Her personal saying, which fits perfectly to the tune of her life, is, “Bee Happy, Bee Healthy, and Bee Adventurous!”
South Shore CVA’s ambassadors continue to seek out more adventure, explore new spots, and capture the beauty in front of us to encourage others to do the same!
“We’re always looking for ambassadors! If you feel you’re a good fit for our program, apply online,” said Dahl.
To learn more about South Shore CVA’s ambassador program, including how to join the team, head to their website at www.southshorecva.com/south-shore-cva/south-shore-ambassador/.