|By Mike Tighe, La Crosse Tribune,
Wis.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 22, 2012--By MIKE TIGHE
Whitney Pierce is "essentially, the heart of the hotel" at GrandStay Residential Suites, her boss says.
As a breakfast attendant at the La Crosse hotel, Pierce often is the first face guests see when they pop down to the lobby to grab a cup of joe and a bite to eat, said Kristina Conca, the hotel's general manager.
Customers see a welcoming face on Pierce as she caters to their needs while preparing hot food and keeping the pastry trays and other breakfast fare well stocked.
"Whitney does a really good job," she said. "Guest surveys show she goes above and beyond, and a lot of them mention her by name, which is rare."
Although the 47-year-old Pierce appreciates such kudos, she modestly attributes her success to a group effort that found her dream job in May.
"If there were a puzzle and I were a puzzle piece, I would fit perfectly in hospitality. It totally fits who I am," said Pierce, whose duties also include stocking and cleaning the kitchen and keeping the common areas on the first floor sparkling.
With minor disabilities that make finding long-term, full-time employment difficult, the Milwaukee native credits Riverfront and the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) with helping her find this job and thrive in it.
Riverfront, a 35-year-old private, nonprofit organization based in La Crosse, provides services to people with disabilities, including vocational training, job placement and coaching, mental health care and adult day care. It works on contract with the DVR to find jobs for clients.
Pierce attributes her success to the support of Amy Studden, a job placement specialist at Riverfront; Maggie Taylor, a rehabilitation counselor for the DVR, and Conca.
"Riverfront was a springboard for me," she said. "Without Amy and Riverfront's support services, I may not have realized this opportunity. I seized the day -- with help.
"Maggie Taylor helped me get clothing I needed to be successful," Pierce said, adding that Taylor also OK'd state DVR funding to buy a cooling unit because her kitchen work area was too hot.
"Kristina has been incredibly supportive, so it's not just me," Pierce said. "It's Riverfront, DVR, and Kristina, all of us cooperating to make this happen."
They are equally laudatory of Pierce, with Studden marveling at "the sparkle in her eye and the confidence in herself."
Not that there haven't been bumps in the road. "When I struggle, I call Amy," Pierce said, acknowledging occasional bouts of insecurity when she went to Studden for a pep talk that restored her confidence.
One recent day, she said, "I was dragging my heels at 7" a.m. with a bout of anxiety before going to work. "By 1, I was all smiles. Amy turned me around and got me to go to work. I've learned that, regardless of what is going on in your life, you have to go to work."
Pierce is happy that work isn't behind a desk, such as customer service jobs she has held and the full-time job, with benefits, she had at an insurance company before she got the 25- to 30-hour-a-week gig at GrandStay.
"I've had 20-some years of customer service background," but much of that involved being tied to a desk in the boiler-room environment of a call center, she said. "I did the whole desk thing, but I do much better in a hospitality-oriented job.
"Face-to-face is where I shine, where I can smile and see people smile," she said. "I get energy from that. The bottom line is I just love people, and that is the key."
The need for people motivates her to take an interest in GrandStay guests' lives, chatting them up as she serves them.
By all accounts -- whether in person, through comments left at the front desk or even personal cards -- customers appreciate her personality as much as her work ethic. She told of a departing seasonal guest who said, "Whitney, you'll never know how much we'll miss you -- but we'll come back to see you."
Studden says she will miss Pierce, too, because Whitney's progress has allowed her file to be closed at Riverfront, although she can go back to the organization if she needs a boost.
"She's successful," Studden said. "It's bittersweet, and it's hard to step back, but I've got to let her go."
(c)2012 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.)
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