April 16, 2014
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Here & Now: Heroes Without the Headlines

What does it take to love the work that you do, day in and day out? Whether it's leading nature walks for local Alzheimer's patients or being a member of a hotel housekeeping team these employees have figured it out.

As a frequent traveler, I used to amuse myself at the airport carousel with a game I called “To Which Person Might that Hideous Suitcase Belong?” But it wasn’t fun anymore when 99 percent of the traveling universe switched to identical black carry-ons.

So now I have a new game. When I’m stuck in traffic (which never happens this glorious time of year, by the way), I play “Who Are All These People and Where Could They Possibly Be Going?” Who’s running some annoying errand? Who’s off on some life-changing mission? And especially: Which ones actually love the work they do, day in and day out?

Take that guy in the black pickup truck, wearing a straw Panama hat. That’s George Luther, retired from an impressive career in public safety with the state of Connecticut. George is on his way to work as a volunteer on the CREW Land and Water Trust’s Bird Rookery Swamp Trail, where he created and host a life-enhancing stroll for early onset Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.

He didn’t set out to do any such thing. He was just guiding one of his regular nature walks when, as he says, “a sweet little lady took my hand and clung to me the entire time. She was having a ball. Afterward, her husband came up and apologized, saying ‘I hope she wasn’t too much trouble; she has Alzheimer’s.’ The man was so touched to see his usually uninterested wife smiling and happy. “I once read that connecting with nature can awaken happy memories from childhood and healthier days. Driving home that day, it occurred to me that there are a lot more people who might respond that way. I presented the idea to (Executive Director) Brenda Brooks and (Environmental Education Specialist) Deb Hanson, and they got fully behind the idea.”

So did the local Alzheimer’s Support Network. So did George’s wife, Susan, and fellow volunteer Bob Melin, who now form the three-person team that runs the monthly stroll called Nature’s Peace.

“Strolling along the boardwalk and hard-packed crushed shell path, the team helps stimulate the senses by observing plant and animal life,” Brooks says. “Patients who arrive with heads down, silent and closed off, leave laughing and happy. The walk also provides some respite for their family members and caretakers.”

Right now, George Luther is smiling to himself at that traffic light, and he doesn’t even realize that tomorrow he will be awarded one of the highest honors at the 11th annual Paradise Coast Tourism Stars awards ceremony. More likely, he’s remembering some small moment—like when he held a tiny yellow buttercup flower beneath a guest’s chin. “Remember what that meant when you were a little girl?” he had asked. “Yes!” she said, giggling. “It means I love butter!”

George’s work with the Alzheimer’s patients earned him the Best Innovative Idea Award at the banquet. Ninety-eight people were nominated by their bosses and their peers for the six awards.

And, sure, it was nice for those taking home plaques, but, in fact, they’re all winners. I do know that every single one of them looks forward to waking up and going to work every day. What a concept. It makes my little guessing game so

much more fun.

 

Charlie and Susan

The pleasant-faced driver next to me, for example, could be Charlie Montas, on his way to the Marco Island Marriott, where roughly 7,800 times for the past 30 years he has driven from his home in Immokalee to Marco Island, where he is a food

runner and server at Quinn’s on the Beach. They say Charlie performs his job as if he were the primary shareholder. That’s 30 years and still smiling on the way to work and the way home.

Check out the petite lady in the charcoal gray Honda. That would be Susan Ryziw, assistant administrator to the resident manager of the Marco Island Marriott. She’s top notch at it, by any standards. But that’s just her job title. She’s also the one who has anonymously helped associates in financial need, the one with the broad shoulder always available for emotional support, the one who cochairs the grass roots Spirit to Serve committee—which last year alone raised more than $80,000 for local causes. She’s such an inspiration that her co-workers follow her lead in a

group their colleagues dubbed the “Little Angels.” After 36 years, Susan still infuses her workplace with passion and compassion.

 

Dieumila and Natali

Perhaps that’s Dieumila Tanelus I see in my rearview mirror, crossing the Jolley Bridge onto Marco Island. She’s been on the housekeeping team at the Hilton

Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa for 27 years now. She sparkles her way through what most mortals would consider a pretty grueling job, but perhaps she’s no mere mortal. It’s said that when she finishes cleaning her own rooms, she pitches right in to help the other housekeepers finish cleaning theirs. Did I mention she’s been doing that for 27 years? Up the road in Naples, I might catch a glimpse of the gorgeous

Natali Lima, turning into the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Naples. Fashion model, perhaps? Attending a society luncheon? No, she’s a newbie on the DoubleTree housekeeping staff . She came from the medical fi eld in Cuba, and one day plans to become an American nurse, but right now her focus is on creating amazing guest service programs, including the hotel’s official Deep Cleaning Model, and offering

help wherever needed—earning the adoration of her co-workers and over-the-top TripAdvisor accolades. Like Dieumila, Natali thrives on pitching in to help everyone else, creating romantic touches for “her” couples and delighting “her” kids with random surprises. The key to smiling on your way to work and home again–and great performance–is pretty simple, Dieumila says. “Just put yourself in your guests’ shoes.”

I want to be more like them, don’t you?

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