2019 Honor of Distinction & Category Winners Stories
HONOR OF DISTINCTION WINNER: OFFICER SEAN ADAMS, Lee County Port Authority Police Department
Why the 2019 Honor of Distinction winner’s consistent professionalism, focused dedication to the guest experience, and tireless work ethic was so incredible, received from several nominators:
--Recently, a German national who spoke almost no English was trying to obtain assistance at a ticket counter. He was not making sense to German translators and my nominee stepped in to try to help. Once my nominee understood the man was developmentally delayed, the employee took over three hours trying to get the man several types of assistance via various local programs. Even though the man had a card that said ‘the holder of this card is severely disabled’, none of the programs were able to help. My nominee learned the German national flew from Germany to Portugal to Newark and was supposed to end in Miami. His baggage made it to Miami with his much needed medication, which didn’t help the situation since he was in Fort Myers. My nominee worked with the airline to try to get his luggage delivered locally. He called the man’s contacts, with no luck. The man’s mental condition began to deteriorate more and more and my nominee realized he now needed medical attention. The last known location for the man was a local hospital, and normally this would have ended a normal employee’s relationship. But this nominee is often going above and beyond.
A few days later my nominee followed up with the airline about the man’s luggage, and attempted to follow up with the hospital but could not get any info due to HIPAA.
A few days after that, an Orange County Sheriff’s deputy contacted us to inquire about the man. This deputy is in a Facebook group for German Americans living in Florida. The man’s daughter in Germany had learned her father had mistakenly flown to Florida without them being aware and they were searching for him. My nominee contacted the daughter and brought her up to date. On her behalf, he contacted the local hospitals and mental care facilities to try and locate the father. When he was unsuccessful on his own, he contacted the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and they agreed to help. They located the man at a local mental health facility.
Even a helpful employee would have simply passed on this information to the man’s family and let it go, but not this employee.
On his own time, my nominee assisted the family in arranging a hotel and offered to meet with them when they arrived to make sure they were on track to reunite with their father. As a final kind act, my nominee came in on his day off to meet the family and the father to help them through the flight and TSA process, then saw them off as they headed back to Germany.
Another nominator shared the following—
--On our way to the airport we had a flat tire and our nominee helped right away. He couldn’t find the special tool he needed to take off the tire and, with my husband’s flight departing soon, offered to take him to the terminal so he wouldn’t miss his flight, then would be back. While waiting for roadside assistance, I was able to find the needed tool. My nominee returned soon, which was good since roadside assistance was 90 minutes out, and he jumped into action to change the tire. Unfortunately the spare tire needed air and was not usable, so he removed the tire (again!), put it in his car, drove to the gas station to fill it with air, brought it back, and put it on. He wanted to make sure it was drivable, so followed me to the gas station to make sure all was good to go. About 20 minutes later I received a phone call and it was my nominee checking to see if I made it home safely! I was so grateful to have someone like this employee to help me, and not only did he help, I learned how to change a flat tire too. You have a great employee and we wanted to make sure he was recognized for a job well done.
Accommodations Category Winner: HEATHER PATTERSON, Residence Inn By Marriott
--I stayed at your hotel because my brother was in the hospital suffering
from liver failure. He was in ICU and we honestly were not sure how long he would make it. As you can imagine, this was a very difficult time. My brother was everything to me. When I checked into the hotel, my nominee was at the front desk, smiling and ready to assist me. Which at the time made me feel extremely welcomed and warm. Welcomed and warm were not familiar feelings to me at the time due to the situation that my family and I were in. She promptly greeted us and was so eager to help. She showed superb hospitality and her personality was extremely sweet.
Not only did she show how well she knew her job, she did even more. I was so distraught and I know she sensed that. She asked if everything was all right and I could not help it, but collapsed into her arms. Although she was a stranger, it felt like she was ready to listen. At that time in my life, I needed a listener. She explained that she understood and that she had a family member who had gone through something similar and was now ok. She offered to share her family member’s phone number as someone to talk to and support us through this extremely difficult time. The fact that this young woman was so caring and deep down truly considerate blew me away. No one has had faith in my brother like that in a long time, including myself. She and her family sparked something inside us that we had forgotten.
Not only did she and her family offer verbal support for us during this time, but something else extremely surprising happened during our visit. As we were all in the room with my brother, we had a surprise visit. My nominee, her family member, and a few friends from a local support group showed up with flowers, cards, and support. My brother has NEVER seen love and support like this before. He was so overcome with emotion. It has been a long, hard recovery for my brother, but he IS on the road to recovery. He has been ok since our experience with my nominee and friends and I owe her so much more than I am able to give her.
Not only is she an exceptional employee to have on your team, but she’s an excellent soul. There are not too many of those left.
Attractions Category Winner: MATT HETRICK, Southern Instinct Charters
--I want you to know about the wonderful things my nominee does for those in need. I didn’t really know about all of his good deeds until he answered a prayer.
We found out that a visitor from Michigan and her daughter had flown in and were driving to Sanibel to stay for two nights. She had just found out that the cancer she thought she had beaten had come back in full force. Her doctor told her she had 30 days to live. She wanted three of those days to spend on Sanibel. Her daughter had shared that she hoped she could get her mother out to see a sunset.
That’s when my nominee stepped in. He found out about them at 11 am and dropped everything to pick them up at 4:45 pm at Port Sanibel Marina. He pointed out the while pelicans and showed them manatees and dolphins. As it turned out, it would be her last sunset on Sanibel.
Because of this experience, I wanted to know more about the captain who handled folks in pain with such grace. It turns out his boat is equipped to take wheelchairs. So, he works with the Freedom Waters Foundation, an organization that offers boating opportunities and marine related experiences for those with disabilities, special needs, youth at risk, and veterans. Recently, he took out a 95-year old WWII fighter pilot for the last boat trip of his life.
He volunteers with Valerie’s House, an organization that brings counseling and hope to children who have lost a parent. On Christmas Eve he joined the Florida Highway Patrol for its annual Christmas event and gifted four young boys with a full day fishing trip after they lost their father when a drunk driver slammed into his car. He also surprised them with brand new fishing rods, as fishing was something the boys did with their father, so it was a special present.
My nominee has a heart of gold and has compassion for those who need love most. He is madly in love with southwest Florida and feels blessed to share its beauty from the helm of his boat. He simply says ‘I know what being on the water does for someone’.
Restaurant Category Winner: KEVIN TULLY, Outrigger Beach Resort Tiki Bar
As the nominator from Ohio shared: My nominee deserves the title, STAR. He is an exceptional bartender/server, and is quick, efficient, and always smiling. Not sure how he stays in a good mood since the bar can get extremely busy during season, special events, and always at sunset. He manages to stay positive while dealing with impatient customers under a harried work atmosphere. In spite of waiting on dozens of customers, he manages to keep brief conversations going so no one feels slighted. When the pace slows a bit, he takes the time to get to know people. He knows his customers and he shares his life with us. He exchanges books with others who have similar interests. He remembers when people are having problems or when they have visitors coming. When he found out I collected tabs for the Ronald McDonald House, he began saving them for me (which helped tremendously since he serves a lot of canned beer!). Recently my mother was not doing well and several times he dropped off soup to her. I know she appreciated that but I think his thoughtfulness and cheerful attitude bolstered her spirits even more. Do I think we are more than customers to him? Yes. Do I feel like we are friends? Yes. Do I think he treats us all “special”? Yes. Do I think we are the only people he serves that feels this way? No. I believe he treats us all like we are special to him. It’s the feeling he imparts that draws people in and makes them want to visit this restaurant, just to see him, their buddy.
Transportation Category Winners: TERESA JIMENEZ & CHRIS STYLES, Lee County Port Authority; JOHN RUSH, Swissport USA/Spirit Airlines
A lady picked up a courtesy phone at the airport and, because she spoke very little English, all Dispatch heard was ‘help’. They were unable to tell whether she had a medical emergency or was simply in distress. Since one of the nominees was on their Translator List as a staffperson that spoke Spanish, she was contacted to assist.
She found out that the lady had actually arrived in Fort Lauderdale from Lima, Peru, and then had received news that her mother was having emergency surgery. This meant she, as her mother’s caretaker, would have to return to Peru. However, somehow the information provided to the lady in Fort Lauderdale was that she would have to make her own way to Fort Myers, get on an Air Canada flight to Toronto, then she could catch a flight back to Lima! How the lady received this mysterious roundabout wayfinding information to get back to Peru is mystifying.
So she managed to get on a bus and somehow arrived at the airport here in Fort Myers. In the meantime, because she had very limited funds, her family in Peru had to find $600 for her, which they wired to her to purchase an Air Canada ticket. More confusion unfolded when it was discovered she didn’t have the right credit card and other forms to be able to enter Canada. To make matters worse, her ability to get a refund on her Air Canada ticket was dwindling quickly.
The situation was getting desperate. The nominee determined that what she needed to do was to return back to Fort Lauderdale and catch a Spirit Airlines flight to Lima. The problem was how to get her there. A taxi ride was over $350. The Greyhound bus was an option, but it didn’t stop at either Fort Myers or Fort Lauderdale. Even if she made it to Fort Lauderdale, she would still have to figure out how to get to the airport and sort out her flight status. And with almost no financial resources, her predicament was going from bad to worse quickly.
In the meantime, as they waited at the ticket counter to see about rebooking, my nominee kindly offered to put her up for the night in her own home to help her.
Enter the second nominee. Even with a long line of passengers in front of the ticket counter, he took several minutes to see what could be done. He then told her he had found a return flight to Lima on their airline that day, out of Fort Lauderdale, if she could get there in 3 hours time. At no extra charge.
Surprise, amazement, hope, concern—the translator did her best to explain what was needed to do.
Enter the third nominee, who had been monitoring the issue from the beginning. To make her flight, immediate action was needed to get her back to Fort Lauderdale. This nominee ensured that her cab fare was paid for, half of it at his personal expense, and they immediately got her to the cab and sent her on her way so she would make it back in time. Were it not for his involvement, the translator’s ability and generosity, and the airline agent’s willingness to dig through literally dozens of flight options that would help her, the lady might still be in Fort Myers trying to figure out what to.
Before someone can act out of generosity, they must first have empathy and compassion in their heart. Only then can they reach into themselves to be able to see a pathway through. It is obvious that these nominees carry within themselves these important traits to help others. The world needs more people like them!
Other Services/Businesses Category Winner: VERONICA MARTORELLI, Bailey's General Store
From Broomfield, Colorado: I came in to replace my cleanser. You were out. I came back—you were still out of this product. I came back and my nominee said it would be coming in soon, took my name and number, and said she would call me when it came in. She called me. When I came in she said my product was no longer available, but she handed me HER can of cleanser from home! Said she didn’t use it. I paid nothing! She was more than thoughtful and helpful. She truly represents what I think about the business she works for—a great place in a small town like I grew up in! Give her a raise!
From Leawood, Kansas – Great personality and very helpful. She exchanged a mug for me that I put in my dishwasher and it turned out it wasn’t dishwasher safe, but there had been no warning on it. She looked at it and gave me a new mug with no hesitation—I’m thrilled!
From Martinsville, Virginia – When I go into the store, I know she will make me and my little dog feel welcome. She is extremely knowledgeable about all items for sale and where they are. I have observed her being just as nice and helpful to all her customers. It’s rare to run into someone so positive and caring at 7 a.m., especially where tourists abound! I look forward to my yearly visit because I know she will be there to take care of our problems. I hope her managers know exactly what a gem they have!
And, last but not least, from visitors from England and West Virginia –
“Extremely helpful always! Great advice about bikes and all kinds of products.”
“I lost a screw in my sunglasses. Not only did she help me with a repair kit—she took time to actually make the repair! All with a great ‘customer first’ attitude—very much appreciated.”
Good Samaritan Category Winner: DEPUTY RONNIE WOOD, Lee County Sheriff's Office
As the nominator shared -- I would like to nominate him for showing outstanding service. One of our dedicated employees uses his bicycle to and from work and he rides about 10 miles roundtrip. He stopped at a local store and, while inside, his bike was stolen. When my nominee arrived to help, he said the first thing my employee asked was how he was going to get to work? My nominee, after listening to his story, decided to take him home. Then he went back to the employee’s house later and gave him his personal bicycle. Wow!
A couple of weeks later a second incident happened with my employee—he got hit by a car leaving the property. He was not hurt but the bike he had received as a gift from my nominee was not in good condition. My nominee again heard what had happened and arrived on scene to see if everything was okay. He left shortly afterwards and went to Walmart to see if there was another bike he could purchase. There was, so my nominee called his son and asked him to go pick up my employee and the broken bike, and meet him at the store. His son and my employee arrived and soon he was the owner of a new bike. My nominee went out of his way to help when he didn’t have to and deserves to be recognized for doing more than needed. He was not responsible or obligated to give his personal bicycle, or even show up to help with the second incident. But he did it with an open heart and my employee will not forget.
Now, what’s important for you to know is that my employee has a disability but is very independent. We all look after him and try to guide him with decision-making. We were all able to meet our nominee when he stopped by our hotel, the Best Western Waterfront, to check on my employee.
Best Tourism Boss: ANGIE MILLICAN, General Manager, Homewood Suites By Hilton at the Bell Tower Shops
Why this year’s Best Tourism Boss winner was chosen—