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Hospitality industry awards honor exceptional customer service in Lee County

By Staff | Sep 9, 2009

For commitment to outstanding customer service and contributing to business success, eight workers were recognized by receiving the Elaine McLaughlin Outstanding Hospitality Service Awards at a ceremony in Fort Myers on Sunday.

Sponsored by the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB), the program acknowledges employees within the hospitality and associated industries who positively influence a visitor or resident’s experience.

The “E” Awards is a collaboration with various local businesses to increase public awareness of, and to encourage and support, the extraordinary service excellence being provided by Lee County hospitality professionals.

From 222 nominations, those selected for their excellence in service and dedication included:

Dr. PJ Deitschel and Dr. Amber McNamara, C.R.O.W., Sanibel Island

Anthony Almeida, Inn at the Springs, Bonita Springs

Barbara Prater, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers

John Bradfield, Johnny Myers Discount Tires, Fort Myers

Jose Cereceda, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonita Springs

Edward Brown, Standard Parking, Fort Myers

For CROW’s Good Samaritan Award, the nominator sent the following story to illustrate the commitment to excellence the nominee makes day after day:

“It’s barely 6 a.m. and still pitch dark when the first car drives up on Sanibel. By 6:05 a.m., four or five staff and many volunteers are hard at work. It’s nearly the end of “baby bird” season and into “baby squirrel” season. The countertops in the back are laden with boxes of all shapes and sizes, placed on heating pads, covered with towels. Each contains one to four squirrel babies – mostly eyes closed, some without fur, some with bite marks, some with broken legs, and so on. Most have fallen 15-20 feet when a tree is trimmed, others are victims of predator attacks. In addition there are eight metal cages, all containing four to six bigger babies.

“Daily rounds are at 8 a.m. Before this each baby must be fed, checked, cleaned and medicated if needed. Weaning babies get fresh milk and biscuits. Every patient has different needs. Upstairs are 15 baby opossums and a spotted skunk needing fresh food. The hurt gulls need fresh fish, as does the eagle and osprey patients. The doves need clean cages and fresh seed. And all the mammals outside normally 150-200 a day – need to be fed. So at the rounds, my nominee checks what needs to be done – not counting what hasn’t been done already – and prioritizes the work of the day. Preparing diets, examining critical care animals, are the wounded birds able to fly, and so on. Also cleaning cages, 40 inside and 30 outside.

“Around noon in come new, hurt, animals – usually two to 15 at a time – to be checked, admitted, examined, and cared for. And what about the walk-in’s, those new patients brought in by concerned visitors strolling our beaches who find pelicans with hooks in their beaks or more broken bird legs or crushed wings. On it goes, all day, all with special needs. And what about the alligator found in the middle of the road, not moving?

“This scenario is repeated 365 days a year, 6 a.m. to sundown, with the nominee organizing and leading and caring for it all with love and patience. My nominees provide leadership and dedication and do everything from cleaning cages to diagnosing to going home with bleach stained clothes because there is no time to change. They do everything everyone else does, from volunteers to staff, and ask no one to do anything which they do not do themselves. We think the animals smile with us when we say these nominees are shining stars.”

The Honor of Distinction award for best overall representative of outstanding service for the year was given to Jennifer Wilson of the Lee County Port Authority Police.

This security agent was directing traffic when a woman began yelling for help. The elderly woman was an Alzheimer patient and was upset, accusing her husband of 51 years of violence. Wilson approached the gentleman and he showed her the bracelet on his wife’s arm identifying her as an Alzheimer patient. Wilson called a fellow officer who offered to seek medical assistance, which the gentleman denied.

After the police officer left, Wilson stayed with the woman, reassuring her that she was in no harm. Wilson walked with the couple to their car to pick up the passenger they had been waiting for. The woman embraced Wilson and remembered her husband for a brief moment, kissing him and holding his hand. Again, the woman became afraid of her husband, held Wilson’s hand, and stated that Wilson was her best friend.

The husband was so moved by Wilson’s kindness and compassion that he submitted a letter to the Lee County Port Authority that stated, “Having met this security agent, Jennifer Wilson, I can honestly say that she has restored my faith in human kindness, caring, and compassion. In my opinion, it is very rare to see people with these kinds of outstanding qualities. Thank you for having her at a place and time she was needed the most.”

Named for former Lee County VCB Executive Director Elaine McLaughlin, the “E” Awards exemplifies her core belief that providing outstanding customer service is one of the major cornerstones of success for all businesses. Nomination categories included: Accommodations, Attractions, Restaurants, Transportation, Good Samaritan and Other Services/Businesses. Winners were chosen by a steering committee of business representatives.

“High level customer service is essential to repeat business,” said Suya Davenport, VCB executive director. “Whether they are visitors or local residents, the degree of service a business provides its customers is critical to the business’ success or failure. The recognition these people earned is very well deserved.”

Sponsors of this year’s “E” Awards include The News-Press, Realmark Cape Harbour Vacation Rentals, Rumrunners Restaurant, The Veranda restaurant, Captain Tony’s Great Getaway, Key West Express, and SunStream Hotels & Resorts.