Posted 8 months ago in Trending
4 MIN READ - Yolanda Hunter, Area Executive Housekeeping Director for Hotel Julian and Hotel Essex Chicago, has had to become a bit of a COVID-19 expert. Hotel Julian has remained open throughout the pandemic, boarding first responders during the first spike in cases in the city. Hunter not only had to keep hotel guests and staff safe, but more than ever she had to motivate her staff and inspire confidence in their work.
“First of all, I want to say that the pandemic has had a huge impact. I personally have had family members who’ve been sick with COVID, so I know all too well the strains of it,” Hunter said. “I definitely was scared, like everybody else. I’m still scared today, of course, because it’s still happening. But I’m the leader, right? I’m the top of the team. So what happens when the top panics? Everybody else panics, and things fall apart.”
Rather than panic, Hunter took the approach that when you know better, you do better. She learned all she could about COVID-19, relying on resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health agencies.
“Most of the time, you’re scared when you’re not knowledgeable about what’s going on,” Hunter said. “We took the time to have trainings, ourselves, and then we trained our team so they know what COVID is, how to combat it, the best ways for prevention. We actually had the health department come in and give us their training knowledge, what we can expect, how to come back, how to deal with it. I became really knowledgeable of it and passed that onto my team members. It made things a lot better for us. We’ve done the signage, added extra sanitation machines, and added specific protocols for cleaning for COVID. I was really happy to assist with the first responders during the first stage of the pandemic here at the Julian. Julian is the patron saint of hospitality, so what better place?”
Hunter has been working in the hospitality industry since 1995, when she started as a turndown attendant. Over the past 25 years, she’s worked her way up through the ranks at various hotels, but she said Hotel Julian holds a special place in her heart because she was able to play a part in opening the hotel and building her team from the ground up. She said what has kept her in the industry more than anything is her guests.
“It’s like when you’re having company at your house, and you want everybody to be comfortable and to have a good time,” she said. “That’s how I treat it. My guests are a reassurance to me that I’m taking care of business and that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. A bonus is when I get a letter or card from a guest thanking me. I have cards now that I can look back on from 20 years ago, people who just said thank you, so I know what I’ve done or what my team has done affected them and made them have a great experience.”
Something else Hunter loves about the hospitality industry is the opportunity it has afforded her to work her way up and work in the Loop. Hunter currently lives in Cottage Grove Heights, but she grew up on the West Side of Chicago. Her mother worked in the Loop for 42 years, the last 25 of which she spent at the Federal Reserve Bank on LaSalle Street. Hunter has vivid memories of her mom getting up early in the morning, getting dressed, “and looking just as good as she could look.”
“I was afforded the opportunity to go to work with her sometimes, and I was just amazed by the Loop,” she said. “The buildings, just everything about the area was really exciting for me. I always wanted to be a part of it, and now I am. For me to enter this field in 1995 and still be here and flourishing in 2020, it’s one of the biggest things for me. I’ve had job opportunities in the suburbs and other parts of Chicago, but I’ve never left the Loop. The Loop is my second home.”
That’s why, despite her and her hotels earning a list of awards a mile long, being named the Loop Employee of the Month is so meaningful for her.
“You know how when you graduate high school, and they get to calling off all the awards? It kind of felt like that,” she said with a laugh. “The first thing I did was go out and call my mom. She is my role model, and she’s my biggest supporter. I’m not a boastful person, but yeah, I called everybody about this one. Because being named the Loop Employee of the Month says that I’m part of it. I love the Loop, and this is where I’ve spent the last almost 30 years working. I have children at the age of when I started working down here. This one is big for me.”
Photos by Organic Headshots
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