Photo Credit: Joshua Bright/The New York Times
Adapted from The New York Times on November 2, 2017
At the Waldorf Astoria, she caught glimpses of Donald J. Trump, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
That’s to name just a few of the politicians Regina Gatewood spotted in her 16 years as a banquet waitress at the Waldorf, on Park Avenue in Manhattan.
One time, Phillip C. McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil, asked her for directions to the restroom. “I feel like I know you,” she recalled telling him. “And he said, ‘You do know me.’”
Ms. Gatewood has come far since her mid-30s, when she entered New York City’s shelter system with her two sons after their father left. She worked long hours as a waitress and in temporary jobs until she could afford public housing, and eventually her own home on Staten Island. She started at the Waldorf in 2000 and worked her way up, becoming a full-time employee in 2010.
But when the luxury hotel closed its doors on March 1 for years of renovations, Ms. Gatewood found herself without a job, along with more than 1,200 unionized hotel employees. Although they had known the closing was coming, Ms. Gatewood said, there was still an atmosphere of disbelief. Her work at the Waldorf was highly specialized — waiters served in pairs and did not use a computer-ordering system — and Ms. Gatewood worried such specialization would make it difficult for her to find employment elsewhere.
With her savings in jeopardy, Ms. Gatewood decided she needed to develop skills for a different career. In March, she enrolled at Grace Institute, a job-training program serving low-income women in New York City. During a recent interview, Ms. Gatewood walked the green-and-white halls of the building in the financial district, her head held high, her pace brisk.
“This is my home away from home,” she said with a smile.
She commuted an hour and a half from Staten Island to Lower Manhattan by train, ferry and CitiBike to attend classes five days a week in professional development and typing. In August, she graduated from the institute, which is affiliated with Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. That month, Catholic Charities provided her with $279 from the fund for a suit, shirt, shoes and coat for job interviews.
Last week, Ms. Gatewood started a temporary full-time job at the Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue, where she works as a room service attendant, filling in for a staff member on leave.
Hilton, when contacted this week for this article, offered to help Ms. Gatewood find a permanent job at one of its other locations in New York City.
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