|y Linda Navarro, The Gazette, Colorado
Springs, Colo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
December 27, 2009 --Laura Neumann just wanted to be a good neighbor.
Five years ago, when she was named vice president and general manager of Cheyenne Mountain Resort, Neumann decided to take cookies and visit all the resort's neighbors to get acquainted. The response was resoundingly positive, she thought.
Then she got a call from Will Temby, then president of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. What's going on? he wondered. "The doors to your property (the resort) were always closed to the local community and now there's a crazy little woman going door to door with cookies," he told her.
Neumann laughs, remembering her introduction to the city.
Cheyenne Mountain Resort, which turns 25 next October and is operated by Benchmark Hospitality International, had been a successful, albeit very private, conference resort facility with a private golf course. Now the doors are wide open, welcoming the community to an award-winning Sunday brunch and celebrated restaurants, to business meetings and nonprofit fundraisers and many other events. The change in atmosphere is palpable.
"We're being seen as a partner in the community like never before," Neumann said.
Sometimes when a nonprofit approaches them to talk about having an event at the resort, "they think it can't be done. We'll be too expensive. They say they don't have much of a budget. But we know we can do something," Neumann said. "We can't do it on our prime days or during our busy season, but we can work with them."
John Branciforte, who has been the director of sales and marketing for a year, said Neumann "is the champion in our commitment to social responsibility and sustainability in our own back yard." She was co-creator of a national Benchmark Hospitality International program called "Hometown Hospitality, Caring for Our Community" and now carries the torch.
It's all about taking care of "home." And, Neumann said, it's about recognizing the individuality and special causes of the people who work at the resort. "What's special, it's not the WIFM stage, it's so much more. It's not 'What's In It for Me.'"
The corporation has a national connection with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and is offering a special opportunity for some single-parent families, giving a few mothers a break with vacation time at the resort.
Former Brownie leader Neumann also says Girl Scout events are important to her and she'll go the extra steps to help them out.
It's not just management; the staff is also given the blessing to volunteer in the community. For executive sous chef Brother Luck, it's the March of Dimes that's most special to him among the many charities he's involved with; he was lead chef for the group's recent chef event.
A marathon spinathon/swimathon at the resort's fitness facility raised "a mountain of cans" for the Marian House Soup Kitchen. Staff volunteer with Wounded Warriors, the American Cancer Association, Catamount Institute, American Heart Association, prison ministries, churches and The Home Front Cares, part of a long list of agencies and nonprofits. The staff makes time to cook special meals at the soup kitchen.
"The stories here are incredible," Branciforte said.
Among recent recognitions were two employees named "Employees of the Year" by the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association. Andre D'Amour, assistant director of conference services, started working at the resort when he was 16. Kristen Adleman, a fitness professional who has survived three bouts with cancer, has a major list of athletic accomplishments, pushes others to succeed and works with cancer groups.
Staff members Scott Marble, Mike Van Duzer and Lynda McMasters accepted a sustainability award from Catamount Institute. This was especially exciting for Branciforte because, "as a newcomer I'm amazed how far behind Colorado is. I thought with Colorado's reputation it would be up there with California and Florida."
Out of 5,000 corporate employees, Van Duzer just received Benchmark's Chairman's Award "for doing good work within the community."
"The seed was always here. It has sprouted," Neumann said. "Nothing changed. It just came to life. People joined us who have a passion."
And a happy staff makes for a good work environment, Branciforte and Neumann say. The resort was named one of the best places to work in Colorado by the Colorado Springs Business Journal, jumping to sixth place this year from eighth place. What's special, Neumann said, is they were nominated by their own employees, who wrote essays telling why their workplace is tops.
"I was touched beyond description," Neumann said.
She's also enthusiastic that "we have 30-, 25-, 20-year employees. We have line-level 10-year employees. It's a long-tenure staff and the staff is phenomenal."
Of course, there is a down side. Cheyenne Mountain Resort, like the majority of businesses, has taken an economic hit during these down times. But, Neumann said, "2009 was better than anticipated. Business was 20 percent off but better than we thought." The resort budgeted for a flat 2010.
However, said Neumann, "a lot of businesses have been very good to us. We've been loyal and they've been loyal to us."
To go along with its 25th anniversary celebration, the resort will have a significant capital project with complete guest room and meeting room renovations.
And those "good neighbor" cookies Neumann delivered are now s'mores. The familiar graham cracker/marshmallow/chocolate goodies are prepared by guests around fire pits or sent home with visitors to remember the resort.
Said Branciforte, "Everyone wants to be a little kid again."
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Copyright (c) 2009, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.
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