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Gift Endows Opportunities in Hospitality for Refugees and Immigrants

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Kristal Griffith

Marriott Foundation and anonymous gift fund award-winning Fritz Knoebel program

Announcement  •

The Ready for American Hospitality program at the University of Denver’s Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management (Fritz Knoebel) now has permanent funding because of a transformational $500,000 gift from The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation. The gift was in response to a matching challenge grant made possible by a generous anonymous donor.

For the past seven years, the Ready for American Hospitality (RAH) program has trained refugees and immigrants, preparing them for jobs in hospitality while giving DU students experience in hiring and developing human capital. The award-winning program is a partnership between Fritz Knoebel and the Ethiopian Community Development Council’s African Community Center, and it just graduated its 21st refugee/immigrant class.

“Funding for RAH has fluctuated over the program’s seven-year life, but the need for the program has never been greater,” says Fritz Knoebel’s Director David Corsun. “These gifts ensure that we will be able to assist refugees and immigrants as they build productive new lives here in Denver. RAH is mission-critical to Fritz Knoebel and has garnered several international awards for the school, along with recognition from the U.S. Department of State. The experience our students have working with the refugee/immigrant communities uniquely prepares them for their management careers.”

“The Marriott Foundation is proud to support this important program with an endowed fund,” says Mieka Wick, executive director of the Marriott Foundation. “We are inspired by its humanitarian and practical impact. In addition to helping refugees and immigrants begin successful lives in Denver, RAH helps Fritz Knoebel students build the management skills they need to be tomorrow’s hospitality leaders.”

RAH is a 100-hour training program designed to make the most of the active job market in Denver and respond effectively to the training needs of refugees and immigrants. The program is also instrumental in participants’ integration into the Denver community.

“The generosity of the Marriott Foundation and the anonymous donor will have lasting effects for the University and the Denver community,” says Armin Afsahi, vice chancellor for Advancement. “The permanence of endowed funding ensures that this program will continue its outstanding work for decades to come, benefiting the students, refugees and immigrants who participate in the program as well as the communities where they will build their careers.”

Fritz Knoebel students enrolled in the school’s course on managing human capital in hospitality are paired with RAH refugee protégés; these relationships are diverse in terms of age, race, ethnicity, class and citizenship. Over the course of several weeks, hospitality students meet with their protégés during and outside class time to complete required assignments, conduct job interview training sessions, and serve as mentors. The RAH students’ relationships with DU’s hospitality students expand their respective networks and world views as both groups learn to trust those who are very different from themselves.

“The class is very useful for the language and for work practice, and it is a good opportunity to help with everything,” says Maryi Martinez, a 2018 RAH graduate who is currently enrolled in training with Denver Public Schools. “When you come from another country, it is difficult and you don’t feel like a real person of this country. After the class, you feel like you belong here.”

The culminating event for RAH has its students working side-by-side with Fritz Knoebel students to produce a food and wine pairing dinner each fall, winter and spring quarter. In winter and spring, these events are collaborations across RAH, the human capital course and Fritz Knoebel’s pop-up restaurant course. These winter/spring dinners are part of the school’s Guest Chef Series. In winter, the dinner is called the Public Good Gala, and in spring it is the food and wine pairing dinner that is part of Fritz Knoebel’s DU Vin Festival, a featured event in the University’s annual Alumni Weekend.

This year, Fritz Knoebel is excited to welcome two James Beard Award-winning chefs, Jen Jasinski, chef-owner of several of Denver’s great restaurants (including Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Euclid Hall, Stoic & Genuine, and Ultreia), and Charles Phan, chef-owner of the Slanted Door in San Francisco, and a Vietnamese refugee himself. Jasinski will be the guest chef for the Public Good Gala February 21, which sold out in five days. Phan will be the guest chef for the DU Vin Festival dinner May 16, as part of Alumni Weekend.

The Fritz Knoebel School and RAH program have been recognized for their innovation, receiving recognition from the U.S. Department of State and numerous international awards, including:

  • The McCool Breakthrough Award, International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, & Institutional Education, 2016
  • John Wiley & Sons Innovation in Teaching Award, International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, & Institutional Education, 2014
  • Worldwide Hospitality Award, Winner-Best Educational Innovation, 2013