Abrehet Seifu and her husband walked into the HTA’s office at Virginia Avenue Park in Santa Monica in September of 2016. Her husband, who is a current City of Santa Monica maintenance worker responsible for beach sanitation, had heard mention of the program. It wasn’t, however, until he saw a flyer about the HTA posted in the building where he lives that he encouraged his wife, Abrehet, to reach out to us for services.
During one of the HTA’s initial meetings with the couple, they shared that Abrehet had been a victim of human trafficking by a relative in New York who brought her there from Ethiopia and forced her to work in virtual slavery, caring for the family’s children. In 2008, she was able to get away and eventually made her way to California. She now lives in Santa Monica’s Pico Neighborhood in a Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM) affordable housing unit with her husband and her four children, who range in age from 1 to 7 years old.
Ask Joseph and he will tell you outright, “hospitality is not just learned, but rather it is something innate that exists inside you.” Accordingly, Joseph has always strived to practice what his mother taught him…to be a gentleman and treat people the way you yourself want to be treated.
Born in the remote town of Linden, Texas, where the homes were equipped not with bathrooms but with outhouses, and the nearest neighbors were so far away you could fire off a shot gun and no one would hear it, Joseph, an African-American gentleman now in his fifties, was no stranger to hardship growing up. Raised by a single mother and the youngest of 12, Joseph never knew his paternal father and lost two of his siblings, one of whom died in early childhood when he was just an infant himself. When Joseph was just three, his family moved from Texas to California and settled in Pomona. A true pillar and a rock, his mom (affectionately known as “Granny Goose”) worked hard, doing domestic work and whatever she could to maintain the house. At age nine, Joseph’s mom remarried and shortly after that his step father took him under his wing and gave him his first job, painting houses to help support the family. It was from his mom and his step dad that Joseph attributes his strong work ethic today.
As a young man, Joseph attended the College of Siskiyous in Weed, CA, near Mt. Shasta, and graduated with a degree in business management. Shortly thereafter, the first of his children were born and the dynamics of Joseph’s life changed completely. Needing to do what had to be done to get by, provide for his family and keep his kids in school, Joseph found himself moving in a lot of different directions career-wise over the years. This included working as a cardiology technician for Cigna Health Plan and Kaiser Permanente, providing administrative support for a law firm, and even opening up his own business, Re-Con Decorating — a clean-up company for interior and exterior construction projects for residential and commercial properties that he operated on and off throughout the years. In the midst of all of this, however, Joseph was also struggling with alcohol abuse and this led to what he terms as “the start of his downfall” and some very hard times. In October of 2003, though, Joseph made a conscience decision to take back control of his life. He joined AAA, and since that day 12 years ago, has not had another drink. Determined now to be a beacon of hope to others going through similar hardships, Joseph focused his efforts on running his business, Re-Con Decorating, full-time. Sadly, despite all of his work, hard times fell on Joseph again; and, with the untimely death of his daughter, which took a great toll on him physically, emotionally and financially, he found himself in need of public assistance.
It was during this time that Joseph learned about the Hospitality Training Academy (HTA) and its Room Attendant Training Program. Joseph was working with a social worker at the welfare office but had exhausted all of his resources and was actively looking for a job. That’s when, during one of his regular meetings, the social worker pulled a flyer off a bulletin board announcing an upcoming information and recruitment session to be held by the HTA at Watts Labor Community Action Center (WLCAC), one of Los Angeles City’s WorkSource Centers. As the program seemed to touch on the things Joseph loved most — fixing things and creating and helping others, Joseph’s interest was peaked and he decided to go to WLCAC to check out the HTA program for himself. It was there that he enrolled in the WLCAC WorkSource Center, met Cathy Youngblood, a long-time Room Attendant at the Hyatt Andaz, an organizer for the UNITE HERE Local 11 labor union, and one of the HTA’s Training Instructors. That did the trick. He was instantly sold on the program and wanted in; and. although there were well over a hundred applicants for the class, Joseph made it his business to campaign hard for a spot in the program. His efforts paid off. In April 2015, Joseph took his place as one of the first 20 students in the HTA’s inaugural Room Attendant Training Class. The intensive 3-week program, which met Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., trained Joseph on the many ins and outs of working in the housekeeping department of a busy, high-end union hotel. Learning from industry insiders with real job experience, he gained the insights needed to successfully find employment and launch a career in hospitality. As part of the class, Joseph really distinguished himself as a leader: making it a point to show up early to class each day ready and willing to learn; asking questions and doing whatever was requested of him; taking advantage of any opportunity to interact with the instructors and offer assistance to his fellow students; and making it a point to introduce himself and let it be known to hotel management and human resource executives visiting the class that he wanted a job as a Room Attendant at their property and was willing to do whatever it took to break into the industry and work for them.
Exuding great customer service, confidence and a winning attitude, Joseph succeeded at impressing everyone he met. Accordingly, within a few short weeks of graduating the program, he was hired as a Room Attendant by The Beverly Hilton Hotel in June, 2015. While Joseph reports that the work of being responsible for cleaning 11 rooms a day in all forms of disarray has been among some of the most physically challenging work he has ever been asked to do, he reports that the HTA prepared him well for the job and, over time, has grown more and more comfortable at work, is taking on more responsibilities and is becoming increasingly proficient at his job.
To date, Joseph has been working at the hotel for six months. He is now a full fledged UNITE HERE Local 11 union member, making a good union wage, and has full health and dental coverage for himself and his family. He is proud that he is learning something every day and his hard work and sacrifices over the years are definitely paying off as. In October, 2015, Joseph was promoted to the position of Houseman.
A true favorite among guests and a real team player, Joseph has been commended by the hotel for his etiquette and manner in dealing with guests. In fact, at a recent staff meeting, Joseph’s supervisor shared a complimentary letter that management received from an older woman who was staying at the hotel and wanted to thank Joseph for taking the time to help her open up some cosmetic bottles that she was having trouble. Joseph’s Supervisor was quick to point out that housemen usually do not get this particular kind of recognition and that this was a big deal and something that the entire department needed to stop and take note of. To Joseph, it was another affirmation that if you treat people the way they wanted to be treated, you will be treated well in return.
There is no doubt that Joseph represents the epitome of hospitality and he has big ambitions for himself within his new career. Through hard work and a winning attitude, Joseph is confident that he will continue to prove his abilities over time and show hotel management that he can fit within and open many doors at Hilton Worldwide, even possibly filling a role for the company nationally or internationally. A true mover and shaker, the HTA believes Joseph is well on his way.
Joshua Washington, a 36 year old, low-income, African-American adult, is a current resident of Santa Monica living in the 90405 area, one of the vulnerable communities designated by the City to receive targeted services. A graduate of the University of California Riverside with a degree in marketing, Joshua is a creative young man with an outgoing personality and a passion for hospitality. Upon joining the hospitality Training Academy (HTA) program, Joshua shared that it had always been a dream of his to land a job with one of the luxury four or five hotels in Santa Monica. However, despite his best efforts and numerous attempts at applying for hotel jobs on his own, he had not been successful at even getting a single interview. And, if he did happen to receive a response back to his applications, all too often, it was only to let him know that no positions were available. Still eager to work in the industry in some capacity, Joshua accepted different positions over the years working as a server in restaurants in both Los Angeles and Santa Monica. When, he learned about the HTA Program from a colleague of his at the Black Workers Center, he rushed in to enroll. Motivated to succeed, Joshua worked diligently from the get go with the HTA staff to prepare to find his “dream” job. He gladly participated in resume building and mock interview workshops and completed Customer Service Training with a top instructor from Los Angeles Valley College that was held onsite at Santa Monica’s Virginia Avenue Park and for which he earned a certificate from the college. With his training all complete, he was quickly moved into job search mode and began working with HTA staff to submit applications to local Santa Monica union hotels. To Joshua’s great delight, he was soon called in for several interviews and, in May 2015, he successfully landed his dream job, working as a Front Desk Agent at the Le Meridien Delfina Hotel in Santa Monica where he continues to thrive.
Daniela Grimes, a 19 year old, African-American, City of Santa Monica “opportunity youth” and Santa Monica High School graduate, was unemployed and living in a CCSM affordable housing unit. She learned about the Hospitality Training Academy (HTA) program from her mother who attended a presentation by HTA staff at a holiday event at her building. Upon enrolling with the HTA, Daniella immediately underwent a series of trainings that included everything from resume writing and interviewing skills to dressing for success and customer service skills training. Excelling in the program and eager to embark on an exciting new career in the hospitality sector, Daniela had the opportunity to interview for a position at LAX Airport where she was quickly hired by Areas USA to work as a Cashier at Sammy’s Woodfire Grill, in Terminal 4 where she sells on average $10,000-$13,000 in product per week and has earned the title of “Top Seller”. Having passed her probation period at work, Daniella is now a proud member of the union, UNITE HERE Local 11, and has a bright future – working a job with a good starting wage and a trajectory for career growth, built in salary increases and full benefits including medical and dental.
Jiraporn “Linda” was born and raised in a small town in Thailand by her mother, with her sister and three brothers. She attended school until the age of 15, and later opened up her own small clothing boutique. Linda’s sister arrived in the United States and sent for her in 1989. Linda left her mother and three brothers back in Thailand so that she could seek better opportunities in America. Linda was still young and could only babysit her newborn nephew while her sister worked. Linda looked for a job for a year but because she did not have her working papers and she did not speak English well, she was only able to work as a cook in small Thai restaurants throughout the Los Angeles area. In 1996, Linda and her sister decided to send for their mother to come to the United States because their mother was aging and they desperately wanted to care for her. It took 10 years for Linda to get her working papers, complete her mother’s paperwork and earn the money to bring her mother to this county, but in 2006, Linda’s mother made it to Southern California and was reunited with her daughters. Linda sought a higher paying job with health benefits. In 2007, Linda was hired by HMS Host as a Fry Cook at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and joined the UNITE HERE Local 11 Union. In 2012, Linda was laid off from HMS Host, as her restaurant closed down due to the $4.1 billion dollar modernization project at LAX. Linda possessed limited cooking skills, but was able to fry foods and prepare Thai cuisine. Linda heard about the Hospitality Training Academy’s (HTA) training program, and its culinary instructors from both HTA and Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC). The class met five days a week, 8 hours a day, at an LAX commissary for 320 total hours of culinary training. Linda tested into the program, and enrolled. Linda hoped to advance her culinary skills and find better employment with her upgraded skills upon graduation. Linda excelled in the training program and earned a blue neckerchief as one of the top students for attendance, grades and class participation. In 2013, HMS Host rehired Linda in a higher job classification, as a Cook 2, with a pay raise, and she returned to UNITE HERE Local 11 as a proud member. Linda said that the best thing about the class was learning all the different cooking techniques and honing her knife skills. She enjoyed making food from scratch, including the five Mother sauces. Linda also loved to prepare new cuisines, such as Italian and Mexican. One of the challenges that Linda faced is the language barrier in both English and Spanish, but she has, and will, continue to study hard every day. Linda sees the Culinary Arts as her lifetime career, and is learning and growing so that she may accomplish all of her dreams and goals in life.