Inching Toward a Better World

Madison Heights-based MyInchofTheEarth.com personalizes charitable giving one inch at a time


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Illustration by james yang

It's easy to remember where our best memories were made. For one family, it was inside Joe Louis Arena. During a charity event for cancer awareness, the kids received hockey sticks from Red Wings players Tomas Holmstrom and Jimmy Howard. The experience made such an impression on them that they found the coordinates of the exchange — 42.325° latitude and 83.051° longitude, to be exact — on the locally based website MyInchofTheEarth.com. The family then "claimed" that virtual inch of land, shared the story behind it, and honored the memory by donating to a good cause.

Michele Favoretto, who started MITE in Madison Heights through her company TerraYebo, wanted people to support nonprofit organizations and charities while giving them a chance to share personal experiences. Her idea became a reality when she launched MITE in 2010.

"Everything in your life happens at a place … from a first kiss to an engagement to a child's first home run," Favoretto says. "So (the idea for MITE) just made sense."

Since then, people have been claiming their own virtual inches of the world — everywhere from a spot at Joe Louis Arena or a specific seat at Comerica Park to parts of the moon or pixels on a website — and sharing the personal stories that go with it.

While the act of claiming an inch of land is purely symbolic, Favoretto says MITE makes the process meaningful by facilitating donations to good causes in honor of all the good memories of MITE's users.

For a minimum donation of $12, MITE users can purchase an inch from anywhere in the world (as long as it hasn't already been claimed by another user) and then select an organization to donate that money to from a list of vetted nonprofit organizations. MITE represents Autism Speaks and the National Park Foundation, among others, and users can suggest more to be vetted and added to the list. Inches are owned for one year at a time, after which users are given the option to renew.
Marty Gillespie, of Bloomfield Hills, has purchased several inches in honor of his late wife and donated the money to Gilda's Club of Metro Detroit, an organization that provides support to people with cancer. He also purchased the inch right where the flagpole stands at the Bloomfield Hills Country Club in honor of a friend who works there.

"When you buy the inch," Gillespie says, "it means something to you and that person, which personalizes it. It's inexpensive. It's not that much more than buying a greeting card. It's a very, very personal greeting card."

Visitors to MyInchoftheEarth.com can also explore a world map and zoom in on specific locations to see photos and read stories about users' inches. Areas shaded in green are sections of the earth dedicated to specific charities, such as the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where proceeds automatically go to the National Park Foundation.

Donations to claim inches at the Rocky Mountain National Park also go directly to the National Park Foundation, which is where Royal Oak native Theresa Lesperance purchased hers. When she was a child, her family spent about five weeks every summer camping at various national parks. She bought her inch as a tribute to her late father, who had a special love of national parks.

"I thought it was really great that I could honor him in a way that was great for the national parks, for places that we spent so much time in," she says. "I think he'd love it."

Once users purchase an inch of virtual terrain, they receive a "Good Deed" certificate that's registered through the Library of Congress to officially recognize the charitable contribution. "Everyone deserves that recognition," says Favoretto.

MITE recently formed a partnership with Microsoft, which is helping create a mobile application. The website recently added a "donate" button so people can donate to other people's inches. Favoretto is also considering adding a feature that will allow users to purchase larger areas.

‘Get Yer Real Estate!’

There’s a whole lot of inches to “buy” in metro Detroit for a mere $12 apiece. Let’s say you’re a Detroit Tigers fan looking to stake a claim. Here are a few options:

The Entire City *

562,028,544,000
*Based on approximately 140 square miles
>>> COST: $6.7 trillion

Comerica Park*

113,472,000
*Based on 788,000 square feet, according to mlb.com
>>> COST: $1.36 billion

First-Base Line*

1,080 inches
*90 feet, standard basepath
>>> COST: $12,960

Step Off the Rubber*

726 inches
*Distance from the mound to home plate, 60 feet, 6 inches
>>> COST: $8,712

Protect the Plate*

17 inches
* Front part of plate closest to the pitcher’s mound
>>> COST: $204

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