Sara Sturgis

The Park Record

Five years ago, the Marriott Summit Watch needed new housekeeping staff members. At the time, hiring a group of Burmese refugees seemed like a good business decision - with help from Utah's Department of Workforce Services and the Refugee Services Office, hiring the refugees was an easy process. It's unlikely that the hiring managers at the time realized that three of their new hires - No Lian, Are Min and Oo Mon from Burma - would become such an important part of the Marriott family.

The three who were the first refugee group hired, were honored by the Marriott last Friday, Feb. 8th, with a ceremony at the hotel.

The Marriott Summit Watch honored three Burmese refugees employed at the resort.  From left to right: Gerald Brown (Director refugee service office DWS),
The Marriott Summit Watch honored three Burmese refugees employed at the resort. From left to right: Gerald Brown (Director refugee service office DWS), Stephanie Johnston (Marriott Summitwatch General Manager),Are Min, OO Mon, Lenny Whitney (Engineering Manager, back) No Lian Thang (Front), Ayelen Butler (Refugee Program Specialist DWS) Jeremy Belnap (Front Office Manager). Photo courtesy of Robert Murphy.
These ceremonies are not unusual - the company celebrates staff birthdays and work anniversaries monthly - "but this month was a special occasion," said Jeremy Belnap, a manager at the Summit Watch. Not only had the three refugees been with the Marriott for five years, but Lian has also just become a citizen of the United States. The entire resort staff attended, and Gerald Brown, the Director of the Refugee Services Office, made a speech.

Speaking with the refugees, Benlap, and Mary Perkins, the housekeeping manager, it's clear that this is a tight knit group. "We are a family," Are Min said happily while the others nodded in agreement. Perkins agrees, "We have a really great melting pot in our break room," she said, "it's amazing to know everyone.


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However, hiring refugees did not come without a few hiccups. Company lore tells of mishaps like dishwashers overflowing with suds from Palmolive, or the machines being loaded with toasters. "We had to learn their culture to teach and train them," Belnap says of the early days working with the refugees.

These days, transitions for refugees working at the Marriott are becoming a little easier. Are Min, unofficially serves as the Marriott's representative to help new refugees. He also works with Refugee Services to help those new to the area buy groceries, find places to do laundry, and adjust to life in Utah. He also encourages other refugees to apply to the Marriott Summit Watch. "We talk about how much better this Marriott is," he says.

The Marriott is also very happy with their Burmese employees and Belnap says the company frequently speaks with other employers in Utah about the benefits of hiring refugees. "[It's] rewarding in every way," he said, "these are hardworking people, working to benefit themselves and their families." Another advantage to hiring refugees versus other foreign employees is that they are legal to work as soon as they arrive, said Perkins. Are Min says a few of the other hotels in Park City also hire refugees including the Canyons, Westgate, and Montage, among others.

The Marriott Summit Watch's team is a success story not only for the hiring of refugees, but also a case study in the community that these refugees build once they arrive in the U.S.. Are Min concluded the interview by expressing gratitude for the Marriott Summit Watch and the U.S.. "Life is easier here, we are not happy with the government in Burma," said Min. "We want to say thank you to the United States' government, we like democracy. We are very loved in the U.S."