Hospitality gives back to kids & homeless, funds cancer research

In the hospitality industry, caring for others is ingrained in everyone’s DNA. It’s no wonder hotel companies make it a priority to help those in need. Here are the stories of individuals and companies who are striving to create positive change in their communities and around the globe.

Editor’s Note:  These stories first appeared in the recent “Beyond the Boardroom” digital newsletter, sponsored by Wyndham Hotel Group. For more of these inspiring stories—and others—go to

Lodging association ponies up for kids

CHICAGO—The future of hospitality is in today’s classroom and the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association (IHLA) wants to set these students up for success in the future.

“The demand for exceptional talent in our industry is greater than ever, and we must continue working hard to meet the anticipated growth,” said Marc Gordon, president and CEO, IHLA. “The rising cost of tuition has become prohibitive for many promising students, but with increased financial support, the number of recipients and award amounts can continue to grow. Contributions help us support promising future hospitality leaders and help our industry meet its staffing needs.”

The organization’s 11th annual Pony Up for the Kids event supports the IHLA Educational Foundation (IHLAEF) Scholarship Program, which serves as a leading source of financial assistance for Illinois students pursuing degrees in hospitality.

Art lifting offers design on a mission

BOSTON—During her work as a social worker running art groups in Boston homeless shelters and disability centers, Liz Powers would hear a common refrain: “I want opportunity, not a handout.”

She discovered that a lot of the quality art being produced at these places was being thrown away or left to collect dust. Powers co-founded ArtLifting—the name combines the words art and uplifting—to give these artists a platform to show their talents.

“By allowing these artists to showcase their talent to a national audience, ArtLifting gives them the opportunity to be successful on their own merit. ArtLifting is a company that empowers artists facing homelessness and disability through the sale and celebration of their artwork,” said Powers.

After launching the organization with $4,000 of her own savings just four years ago, ArtLifting has expanded to 20 states nationwide.

Hotelier dances for charity’s sake

BOCA RATON, FL—So, you think you can dance? Not like this hotelier. John C. Tolbert is doing it all for a good cause. The president and managing director of the Boca Raton Resort & Club, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, was invited to participate in Boca’s Ballroom Battle, an annual charity dance competition to benefit the George Snow Scholarship Fund.

“I committed to this a year out from the event. They take local community leaders—four men and four women—and your goal is to prepare, but also raise money for the charity; the foundation is amazing,” said Tolbert. “Fundraising is what it’s about.”

Participants are challenged to learn a dance routine to be performed in front of a crowd—800 people or more—here at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, A Waldorf Astoria Resort. Tolbert, who would be the first to say he’s not a natural dancer, took ballroom dancing lessons at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Boca Raton over the course of four months. During that time, he also hosted several experiential events designed to raise money for the scholarship fund.

Developer’s passion project helps children in Africa

LOS ANGELES—It’s not hyperbolic to suggest Irongate’s Will Bennett is a “give you the shirt off his back” kind of guy. While building his career and influence in West Coast development as managing director of a full-service real estate development firm focused on vacation destinations, he also runs a charity project called Shirt Off My Back (SOMB), which covers the cost of school attendance—including uniforms—for children in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“We are design-driven developers. I think that is what really sets us apart. It stems from the top. Our founder, Jason Grosfeld, is really passionate about design, and we try to marry amazing design with the best brands in the world. Our current projects include The Ritz-Carlton Residences Waikiki Beach; Aspen Lift One; and the Four Seasons Resort and Residences at Costa Palmas,” said Bennett.

In his spare time, Bennett’s passion project is SOMB. Since its inception nine years ago, the organization has sent 50,000 children to school in Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. SOMB has received public support from celebrities, including actresses Eva Longoria and Nina Dobrev, as well as rapper Common.

Rock The Road evolves into leadership, innovation event in support of cancer research

COLUMBUS, OH—More than a year ago, Hotel Business interviewed Rockbridge President & CEO Jim Merkel about the private equity firm’s centerpiece event, Rock the Road (RTRX). Since then, the company has taken RTRX to new heights in support of cancer research.

Among the strides include an evolution of the event into a leadership and innovation experience complete with notable speakers who share expertise, and innovation stations. The attendance has steadily climbed, with the event garnering 183 attendees in 2015, and topping more than 400 attendees this year.

“The investment we make to Pelotonia [an annual cycling event in support of cancer research]has also grown dramatically. In 2015, we made an investment of $655,000. In 2017, our investment to Pelotonia topped $1 million,” said Merkel. “We have also evolved the name from Rock The Road to RTRX. The X stands for experience, because we feel it’s grown to be more than an event. It now spans several days, and we believe this is only the start.” HB

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