Serving Our Communities

Serving Our Communities

By Marianne Scholl

Writing about how Washington’s hospitality businesses support our communities is a surprisingly difficult assignment. That’s because in the industry that serves, giving back is in everyone’s DNA, and compelling examples abound. So where does one start?

Perhaps with ProStart, the culinary training program that helps high school students find a passion and gain real-life job skills. Thirty-three Washington schools, in partnership with the Washington Restaurant Association Education Foundation, currently offer ProStart’s curriculum as part of their vocational training options. It’s a program that changes lives by opening kids’ eyes up to the challenge and immense satisfaction of a culinary career. And it works because hundreds of industry professionals volunteer each year to teach, mentor and guide Washington’s ProsStart students.

Take Jennifer Faught, a ProStart graduate herself and owner of a Zip’s Drive-In in Spokane who has mentored in Spokane Public Schools. She knows firsthand that many of the skills the students acquire will be valuable throughout their lives, and she personally appreciates the ambition ProStart helps foster.

“Dreams do come true, and ProStart gives students the sense of the possibilities,” she said.

Then there is FareStart, the Seattle-based non-profit that helps homeless and disadvantaged men, women and teens achieve self-sufficiency and employment. It has a broad array of programs and services, and its cornerstone is an adult culinary program that provides participants with the tools, training and support they need to get a long-term, good-paying job in the food service industry. It also has a youth barista and customer service training programs that helps homeless youth ages 16 to 24 with eight-weeks of job training, along with resume and interview help and 10 months of additional support while they get established in a job.

Local chefs and restaurants play an important role in FareStart’s ability to live up to its motto “Great Food. Better Lives.” Hundreds of Seattle-area chefs have volunteered for the Guest Chef Night which is a weekly tradition at FareStart Restaurant. These talented volunteers help students gain valuable experience and have helped raise $4.5 million for job training programs.

The success of any job training program ultimately rests with the ability of graduates to find and keep a job, and that’s another way restaurants help FareStart and its students succeed. The list of restaurants and hotels that have hired FareStart graduates is a veritable who’s who in hospitality good citizenship, and ranges from large players like Starbucks Coffee Company, Pineapple Hospitality and Ivar’s Acres of Clams to independents such as Skillet, Altstadt and Vios Café.

Theo Martin, owner of Island Soul in Seattle’s Central District, has been teaching kids to cook for close to 20 years at Coyote Central, a non-profit that serves middle schoolers

with classes and workshops in a range of artistic endeavors. Although he has seen students with “serious skills,” the goal of his classes is to help young teens, especially those with challenges at home, learn how to cook so they’d eat healthier with more fresh produce. He now also serves on Coyote’s board of directors.

Of course, welcoming and feeding people is what our industry does. Scott Fraser, owner of Frasers Gourmet Hideaway in Oak Harbor, has been doing it to give back to his community on a truly grand scale. He helped launch a free community harvest celebration 14 years ago, and last year the annual event served Thanksgiving dinner to 3,000 local residents.

In 2009 he wanted to do even more to bring his community together and hosted a pig roast and block party. Now a full-on festival, the Oak Harbor Pigfest treated 6000 people to a free BBQ lunch in 2015 and raised $12,000 for charities. It’s no surprise that Scott’s restaurant was a state Restaurant Neighbor Award winner in 2015.

For hotels, shelter is a theme that often informs their community involvement. The Radisson Hotel Seattle Airport, a winner of the Washington Lodging Association’s community service award, has made a committee to support the Genesis Project, a drop-in center that offers a safe haven for victims of prostitution and sex trafficking.

Radisson staff members have rolled up their sleeves to clean and paint the center and have collected clothing, toiletries and financial donations for the women who use the center. It also turns out in force in June for the Genesis Project’s Freedom Walk which raises funds and awareness about the issue of sex trafficking in the greater Puget Sound area.

The entire team is committed and excited to be involved in responsible business,” said Sanjay Mahajan, the Radisson Hotel Seattle Airport’s general manager.

Together, they have given back in a myriad of other ways, including supporting city tree plantings, volunteering for the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission’s “Chief for a Day” program, celebrating children who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening or chronic medical conditions, gathering school supplies schools in need, and partnering with U.S. Marine Corps to collect unwrapped toys for their Toys for Tots program.

SpringHill Suites by Marriott and TownePlace by Marriott in Bellingham paired up to help Habitat for Humanity open a new store in Bellingham, which sells new and gently used furniture, appliances, housewares and building materials to raise money to construct homes. It turned out to help its annual “Spirit to Serve” Day, inspired by the Marriott community building initiative.

What’s good for your community is also good for your employees.

According to research from the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business published in the Academy of Management Journal, employee volunteering is linked to greater workplace productivity and satisfaction.

“Overwhelmingly employees who volunteered gave more time and effort to their jobs, were more willing to help out their colleagues, talked more positively about their companies and were less likely to do detrimental things like cyberloaf or waste time on the job,” said Jessica Rodell, an assistant professor of management at UGA and author of the research.

The 2014 Millennial Impact Report by The Case Foundation underlines the value of offering opportunities to volunteer through the workplace. This study of Millennial employees and their preferences for company cause engagement found that more than 63 percent of female Millennials and 45 percent of males were influenced to accept a job at a company based on its involvement with social causes.

Nica Tovey, a Starbucks’ district manager, knows that volunteerism also helps employees expand their skill base as they build stronger connections to the communities in which they live.

“In a time where people are moving so fast, community service provides a chance to support others that may not be as fortunate while developing leadership skills and community ownership,” she said.

(Source: Washington Restaurant & Lodging Magazine, May 2016)

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