The Above and Beyond Foundation rewards hospitality workers

Park Hyatt Beaver Creek employee receives Hero of Hospitality award

Maria Esparza (fourth from right) and family and staff from the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek pose with a check after the surprise ceremony where Esparza was awarded the Hero of Hospitality award from The Above and Beyond Foundation.
The Above and Beyond Foundation/Courtesy photo

Even before the pandemic, Vail local Mary Jo Blythe realized the hospitality industry, especially the front-line workers, needed to be recognized and rewarded for their efforts. Blythe created The Above and Beyond Foundation to honor these individuals for their impact on the success of the industry through awards and grant initiatives.

Blythe started the nonprofit at the end of 2017 after selling her corporate event planning business.

“I wanted to do something to give back to the industry and the people that helped make my company successful,” Blythe said. “I discovered there really wasn’t a philanthropy that recognized the front liners, so I started TAABF.”

Blythe said before COVID-19, TAABF had given out a total of thirteen $10,000 (amount is then rounded up to account for taxes) Heart of Hospitality grants to many employees all over the U.S., five employees in the Dominican Republic and one employee in Canada.

Mary Jo Blythe at an awards presentation at Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail in 2017.
The Above and Beyond Foundation/Courtesy photo

“Then COVID hit and all the hospitality workers were out of work. We then established a $500 Urgent Aid grant during COVID to help these people. We raised money and gave out 1,000 of these grants in one year. After COVID, we established the Hero of Hospitality $2,500 grant to recognize the amazing people that kept the lights on during COVID and did the jobs of multiple people. We’ve given out 10 of these awards since these employees have been able to return to work,” Blythe said.

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There are plans to reinstate the $10,000 Heart of Hospitality grant later this year. Winners of various awards are nominated by their senior management for the grant awards and the TAABF board selects the winners.

“We do a big ceremony at their place of work where we announce the surprise grant recipient among their peers,” Blythe said. “Every single time we do this, there isn’t a dry eye in the room.”

That was the situation recently at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek. The Society for Incentive Travel Excellence held its annual winter event on April 9, and TAABF recognized Maria Esparza, room attendant and housekeeper at The Park Hyatt, who was awarded the Hero of Hospitality award in front of her colleagues and family at a surprise ceremony.

Esperanza received a $2,500 grant (paid as $3,000 to accommodate for taxes) for her extraordinary acts of service over the past year.

Maria Esparza, of the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, receives applause from coworkers and guests at the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence event on April 9. Esparza received the Hero of Hospitality award from The Above and Beyond Foundation.
The Above and Beyond Foundation/Courtesy photo

“Now more than ever, it is important that we recognize our workers who are supporting the hospitality industry, an industry that the Vail Valley and Beaver Creek Resort rely on for thriving businesses,” Blythe said.

Even though TAABF has only been around a few years and had a few COVID pivots in between, Blythe said the response to earning one of these grants is overwhelming.

“Our winners are living paycheck to paycheck with no way to get a leg up. These grants are like pennies from heaven,” Blythe said.

“One woman was living in a trailer downvalley with six family members, including her son and husband. The $10,000 Heart of Hospitality grant allowed them to move into their own apartment by providing first/last month rent and security deposit as well as furniture,” Blythe said.

Another grant winner was living in an apartment with her two daughters with a few mattresses on the floor and no furniture. The grant allowed her to furnish her apartment and buy Christmas presents for her daughters.

“Another winner’s house burned down the week before she received a TAABF grant, and she was able to buy the basics for her and her family to get back on their feet,” Blythe said. “There are so many stories of how these grants help, I could do on and on.”

To learn more about TAABF, visit

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