He Went From Fixing Fry Machines to a Fancy Waterfront Hotel

Seven months ago, Michael Dickerson worked the morning shift at the McDonald’s in Far Rockaway, Queens. He stocked the freezers with hamburgers, fixed frying machines and did whatever was needed.

Mr. Dickerson, 34, had no problem working hard, he said. But he was barely making enough to pay his bills, let alone make child support payments for his four children. Something had to change, he recalled thinking.

“I want to live right and healthy and be somebody my kids can look up to,” he said in a recent interview.

So he started participating in a voluntary job-training program offered through New York City for parents who owe child support, Families Forward. There, he found out about another opportunity: a chance to ditch fast food for the hospitality industry.

It would still be hard work, but with better surroundings and prospects, he thought.

“I didn’t want to be at McDonald’s,” Mr. Dickerson said. “I wanted to say I worked at a nice hotel where I’m accomplishing something.”

He quit his job in the summer to enroll in the Chinese-American Planning Council’s hospitality careers training program.

Founded in 1979, the program serves students from a variety of communities and backgrounds. Participants are not guaranteed a job at the end, but the council helps them set up interviews at hotels in the region.

For two months, five days a week, Mr. Dickerson and other students sat in a classroom in Flushing, Queens, to learn the ins and outs of the hospitality business. The course focuses mainly on housekeeping and related services, explaining topics as varied as safety and security to the hierarchy of hotels. It teaches participants how to interview for jobs and set budgets for themselves.

Trainers make sure that students know exactly what they will face on the job, said Annette Montalvo, the assistant director of training programs at the planning council.

“Can you work weekends, holidays and overnights?” she said. “It’s a physical job, can you handle that? Can you clean a dirty toilet? We know hotels are going to ask them during a real interview.”

The council trains about 100 students a year. It is partly funded by F.P.W.A., one of eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. F.P.W.A. received $20,000 from the fund last year for the training program.

The program helps people from a variety of backgrounds, including immigrants and college graduates who have trouble finding work. Students must read and write English, have a high school diploma, equivalent or pass an eighth-grade level of the Test for Adult Basic Education, and be able to legally work in the United States.

“As long as they meet the requirements, we welcome them,” Ms. Montalvo said.

Mr. Dickerson had dropped out of high school in the 10th grade.

“I was born in Harlem, raised in Brooklyn and faced a lot of obstacles,” he said. “As far as me picking my career, I ended up on the streets. It took me awhile to mature.”

Mr. Dickerson eventually become a live-in home health aide, working with the same client for five years. But his next patient proved difficult for him emotionally — an 18-year-old boy who had been shot in the Bronx. Mr. Dickerson’s older brother had been shot 20 years before, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

“It hit home,” he said. “I really couldn’t do that.”

He filed for unemployment, working temporary and summer jobs until he landed a full-time job at McDonald’s.

Once he was accepted to the hospitality program, he passed the Test for Adult Basic Education to be able to move forward with the program. It was just one step toward creating a better life for himself and his family.

In addition to the hotel industry, the program taught him communication and email skills, and how to present himself in a job interview.

It worked. In the fall, Mr. Dickerson landed a job at the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, an upscale hotel that opened in 2017 with impressive views of the East River and Manhattan skyline. He helps prepare the banquet hall for events, receiving floor plans for elaborate weddings and parties and “making them come to life,” he said. He sets up the tables and chairs and assists the servers, and loves it.

“It’s a new experience in my life, and it’s a good job,” he said. “I look forward to going to work.”

His goal now is to work his way up. He sometimes works 12-hour days that can start as early as 4:30 a.m. Mr. Dickerson takes overtime shifts whenever he can, he said, for his children’s sake.

“I want to make sure they have the best and make sure I’m being a great provider,” said Mr. Dickerson, who added he is now making child care payments.

And he is learning from fellow workers at the hotel and hoping to go back to school and earn a college degree.

“It’s never too late,” he said.

He hopes to be a banquet manager someday.

“It makes me so happy,” he said. “I’ll accomplish something in time.”

Donations to the Neediest Cases may be made online, or with a check or over the phone.

Source: Read Full Article