Where would event professionals be without the tireless hotel employees who staff our events, set up tables, serve the carved roast beef and dim the lights at the end of the day? Mary Jo Valentine Blythe, founder of The Above and Beyond Foundation (TAABF), calls these people the “heart of hospitality” and set up an award to thank them in a big way.
Blythe, who founded the events production company Masterplan in 1991 and later sold it to Creative Group, had seen for herself how hard frontline hotel employees work—day and night, “and with a smile.” Thus was her idea for TAABF born. To set the parameters, she worked with co-founders Thierry Kennel, regional vice president and general manager of Four Seasons Hotel in Denver; Rhea Stagner, vice president of sourcing and supplier relations at Maritz Travel; and Ron Officer, chairman emeritus at The Creative Group. Then she recruited a stellar board to raise money for the program and guide its initiatives: Stacy Lucherini, regional vice president with Associated Luxury Hotels International; Maggie Lapcewich, executive vice president corporate strategy and communications with Breakthru Beverage Group; Rhonda Brewer, vice president of North American sales with BCD Meeting & Events ; Tony Lorenz, CEO of PRA; Lynn Pavony, director of incentive sales with Four Seasons Hotels and Resort; Craig Reid, CEO of Auberge Resorts Collection; John Reimers, chief operating officer at Propark; Tom Povich, regional vice president of venues at PSAV; and Kevin Edmunds, vice president of meetings and incentive sales at AIC Hotel Group. TAABF’s stated goal is “to recognize and reward outstanding individuals employed in the hospitality industry by providing grants to help them attain their personal and professional goals and better their lives… The Foundation strives to motivate individuals to elevate their service levels, reinforce employer service initiatives and provide a resume accomplishment for job advancement.” Lorenz, in an article for LinkedIn, called TAABF a “thank-you to these individuals for inspiring us to be grateful to them for their work. The Foundation is hopeful our work will lead to many more avenues for recognition of many individuals in many ways for years to come.”
TAABF manages a turnkey CSR program called Boomerang! that asks meeting attendees to keep an eye out for outstanding individuals they encounter—from drivers and doormen to housekeepers and AV techs—and then nominate them for a $10,000 grant in the name of the host company. In September, TAABF awarded $10,000 to Gary Gill, an employee at The Broadmoor, who started his career there as a telephone operator. He accepted the award “on behalf of all the professional Broadmoor employees.” At IMEX America 2019, Bryson Taylor, an employee of Fudale, a Global DMC partner in Las Vegas, was given the award “for consistently going above and beyond in his role.” He planned to use the money as part of a downpayment on a home for him and his son. Blythe awarded three grants at SITE Classic in October and counts event planners as an integral part of her community. “This is a 100 percent volunteer organization,” she said. “Planners can help by volunteering to be ambassadors—to spread the word and solicit donations and nominations; select TAABF’s CSR program as a part of the meetings they produce; and use TAABF as their company/ association’s charitable entity.” Board member Edmunds sees much flexibility and empowerment for meeting professionals in the program. “Event planners have a massive opportunity to position the rock stars that have helped produce their event at the highest level. The Above and Beyond Foundation provides a platform for our event planners to either bring in a CSR portion to their program or actually work with us to recognize a certain individual. In a lot of instances, our grants are life-changing, and, frankly, that is only a fraction of what the grant winners have given to us,” he said.