|By Melissa S. Monroe, San Antonio Express-News
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 27, 2005 - Coming to a new city after an ordeal such as Hurricane Katrina was overwhelming for many evacuees, but for a few who had hotel jobs in New Orleans, the transition to San Antonio has been a bit easier.
Chains including the Hyatt and Crowne Plaza have found that despite the people's turmoil of being displaced, they are assets to local hotels.
San Antonio hotels have played a significant part in helping many of the Katrina evacuees not only by providing jobs, but also donating more than $1 million worth of towels, linens and personal hygiene products.
Tremaine "Trey" Johnson, 20, said the Hyatt adopted him and his mom, Karen, which eventually led him to get a job as a room service order taker at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio downtown.
"I feel like I'm blessed," Johnson said. "The whole ordeal took a lot out of me. I have an opportunity with the Hyatt, and I took it." During the storm, he worked 18-hour shifts for six days at the Hyatt New Orleans to help with government officials who were staying there.
He recalls looking out his 22nd-floor window and seeing a toddler facedown, floating in the water. He and his mom also waited about 18 hours at the New Orleans airport before reaching San Antonio.
Maria Tijerina, Hyatt's director of human resources, said her company adopted eight families including hotel employees. The Hyatt allowed them to stay at the hotel, eat in the cafeterias and use computers to help with job searching.
The company helped place two of the families with Hyatts here and another family with a Hyatt in Dallas, Tijerina said.
"Everyone was still shocked, and Tremaine was one of the first ones to say he knows he wants to stay here, and we hired him on very quickly," Tijerina said.
Norbert Sanders and his wife, Yolanda, also were hired with the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa. Norbert Sanders was hired as a maintenance engineer. His wife, a former New Orleans police recruit, will work in security.
Sanders said his wife and four boys stayed in the Hyatt resort's Sunday house or VIP quarters for a few days before finding an apartment about 15 minutes away from the hotel.
"When I got here, I was tired, distraught, but I quickly was taken out of that by the love shown through the Hyatt and people in San Antonio," Sanders said.
The couple said they had talked about moving from Louisiana because they were dissatisfied with the state's politics, education system and economics. But Hurricane Katrina forced a quick move.
Candi Gonzalez of Crowne Plaza's human resources department said her hotel has hired a housekeeper supervisor, and two other people are in the interviewing process.
Crowne Plaza participated in an Alamo Worksource job fair about two weeks ago at the KellyUSA shelter, compiling a list of 11 applicants, Gonzalez said. The list was whittled down, however, as many of the New Orleans candidates' cell phone numbers were out of service.
Pat Miller, spokesman for the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association, said the biggest concentration of hiring has been in Houston, as more of the evacuees were placed there.
"New Orleans was such a big tourist destination that there's a lot of highly qualified hospitality professionals," Miller said of the Katrina evacuees. "The job market has been a little tight, but the topic of conversation has been wanting to find good employees." Eva Esquivel of Alamo Worksource said her agency's employment services so far have helped about 1,000 evacuees.
"We have employers offering positions across the board, it's not just hospitality," Esquivel said.
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