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Hotel packs staff's kids with ice cream, school supplies

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Davidea' Breeden, 6, left, and Nakiya Carmichael, 9, shovel down spoonsful of ice cream during the back-to-school Hilton social Friday afternoon Aug. 11, 2017.


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Hilton Greenville threw an ice cream party Friday for its employees’ young children. After loading them up with the confections and all the toppings they could handle, they loaded them up with something even more delightful — new backpacks filled with all the school supplies they could carry.

“It’s a way for us to give back to our hourly employees and show our appreciation for all they do to make the Hilton flourish,” said Hilton Greenville Administrative Assistant Jennifer Baker, who coordinated the backpack event.

Employees of children entering grades K-5 were given a list to fill out, based on information that Baker — formerly a Pitt County Schools kindergarten teaching assistant — gathered from each of the students’ school websites. 

“The lists were individually tailored for each grade and each teacher’s individual requirements,” Baker said. “You can’t fill the backpacks with general school supplies and meet everyone’s needs.”

Baker filled the completed lists by shopping the websites at Wal-Mart and Staples.

“As a former teaching assistant, I know how important it is for kids who might not otherwise be able to afford them to walk into school the first day with a brand new backpack filled with all the things they need to be successful,” she said. “That’s something that the Hilton wanted to provide.”

Baker and the Hilton team also know there’s more to starting school for a child than being prepared for their lessons.

“It’s also about fitting in,” she said. “I know from my experience in the classroom that when a child sees his or her classmates unpacking all the stuff that other parents put in their bags knowing their parents just can’t provide those things, it makes them feel pretty bad. This way, every one of our employees’ children will walk into class with all the things their teachers expect them to have on the first day to be successful learners in school and at home. It takes a lot of worry off of the parents, too.”

The project is part of the Hilton’s “Bright Blue Futures” program. Hilton sees youth as the next generation of leaders, innovators, employees and world travelers, Hilton Greenville Human Resources Director Sherrie Thigpen said. The program, led by team members throughout the Hilton system, provides stability and hope to those youth who lack the support to achieve their full potential. The backpack idea came to Hilton Greenville General Manager Hanna Van Coutren at a managers conference she attended in San Francisco, where backpacks were distributed to area high school students.

“I read about a company that had focused its support efforts on providing scholarship funds for the many employees it had who were in college,” Van Coutren said. “That’s when I thought we could provide backpacks for our employees’ children. I’ve always been amazed by how much students need for school. I think all children should have the same opportunity to start school prepared to be successful right from kindergarten and first grade. It bothered me to think that many students don’t have that opportunity.”

Van Coutren brought the idea to the Greenville franchise owners, who decided to underwrite the project.

Jeffrey Carmichael, a Hilton chef, and his wife, LaSzwaja, watched their daughters, ages 9 and 6, load up on sundaes topped with an array of sprinkles, nuts and candies before checking out their new backpacks.

“This is an incredible idea; I absolutely love it,” Jeffrey Carmichael said. “I really appreciate the hotel taking care of the kids this way.”

Having materials that she knows her children actually need and can use makes a big difference, LaSzwaja Carmichael said.

“Actually, the girls are more interested in the ice cream and sprinkles right now,” she said. “They didn’t even notice the backpacks yet.”

Debbie Evans, who works in the Hilton laundry, said she was happily shocked by the Hilton’s gesture for her two children, also 9 and 6 years old.

“It’s really saving us money and time,” Evans said. “The kids have been counting the days ever since I got the letter about the backpacks. This really is a blessing because I have two more kids in high school to get ready. Hilton is a great company to work for. They love your family as if it’s theirs.”

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.