Vail’s Sonnenalp pays employees for volunteer work |

Vail’s Sonnenalp pays employees for volunteer work

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

WOLCOTT ” Kathy Rivera had most of her crew from the Sonnenalp Resort’s laundry crew had some real dirt to deal with Wednesday.

Rivera and her crew ” along with several other Sonnenalp employees ” spent much of the day at the Recon construction material recycling center near the county landfill north of Wolcott, cleaning up, picking up and throwing out. By mid-day, the crew had already filled up one giant construction dumpster and started filling a second.

Best of all, though, the whole crew received a day’s pay for their efforts.

The day at Recon was just part of “Sonnenalp Serves” week, in which 200 or more of the resort’s employees spend some quality volunteer time with one of a couple dozen local nonprofit groups.

At the Recon yard, Matt Scherr said the help from the Sonnenalp crew has been a great gift.

“Just today, you’re looking at probably 100 man-hours of work here,” Scherr said. That would be almost a whole summer’s work for yard manager Seth Kulas, he added.

The people working at the Recon lot Wednesday said they were enjoying the day, but they also liked being able to help a worthy project.

“This is a good thing for the future,” Laura Pereira said through Rivera.

Most of Rivera’s crew speaks little English, but all basically said the same thing: It’s nice to have a chance to help the community they live in.

Encouraging volunteers

Kim Blackford of the resort’s human resources department said that’s the point of Sonnenalp Serves week.

“We’ve always encouraged people to volunteer,” Blackford said. “But our volunteer numbers weren’t as high as we wanted, so we paid people for a day.”

But putting the program together took some work.

First, department managers generally only put schedules together a few days in advance. Those manager were asked to create schedules for this week, when the hotel’s relatively empty, and assign people to just four days of work instead of five.

Rivera, a 21-year veteran at the Sonnenalp, picked Wednesday for her crew.

Then there was the effort required to find nonprofit groups to help.

Using the Vail Valley Partnership’s Internet link to local nonprofits, Blackford and her committee put together a list and started calling, asking if various charities could use some help this week.

The Sonnenalp also put in a call to the Eagle Valley Volunteer Center to find groups that needed help.

The thank-yous are starting to roll in:

“What an extraordinary gift you gave us,” Vail Valley Salvation Army case worker Tsu Wolin-Brown wrote to Blackford in an e-mail.

Carol Busch of the Gore Range Natural Science School also sent Blackford a glowing e-mail after the April 19 Party for the Planet in Eagle.

“I was so impressed by your willingness to do whatever we asked, sit at a table without shade, play with kids in the street, help vendors find their spot, plant trees, photograph everything, and much more… We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Team building

Beyond the help Sonnenalp employees provided, they also got a chance to get to know each other a little better. That’s not always easy in a company with 400 or more peak-season employees. Besides Rivera’s crew from the laundry, the Recon yard also received volunteer hours from Aaron Ausherman of the resort’s computer technology department and several others.

During a break, Bully Ranch chef Alex Fillo talked to Ausherman about some problems with some of the restaurant’s software.

“It’s really good for team building,” Ausherman said. “I don’t see the laundry people very often.”

And those at the Recon yard seemed eager to take on another project on another day.

“It’s been fun to come out,” said Lee Arnold of the reservations department.

There could well be another week of volunteering, too. Blackford said the Sonnenalp is considering holding a similar service week in the fall.

With Rivera as his interpreter, Periera said the Sonnenalp’s program is worth copying.

“Other hotels should get involved,” he said. “We all should help each other out.”

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