- By Michele A. Berdy
- Nov. 18 2014 00:00
A barrier-free environment at the Marriott Royal Aurora Hotel welcomes every guest.
On a rainy afternoon in September, dozens of children gathered in the Renaissance Moscow Monarch Hotel to watch their peers perform, join together in creative workshops, and then chow down a feast that included mini-hamburgers and tiny pizzas. Hotel guests probably didn't notice anything unusual about the kids, but this wasn't a typical Moscow play date. Some of the children were with their parents, and the rest were from an orphanage.
A few weeks later, travelers rushing through the rain to one of the train stations on Komsomolskaya ploshchad might have stopped to gape at a strange sight: the usually staid Hilton Leningradskaya Hotel was illuminated a bright pink. Inside, celebrities mingled among a crowd of predominately women, everyone sipping champagne and nibbling on canapés. It looked like any cocktail party — except that everyone wore a pink ribbon, and among the chitchat were some serious conversations about breast cancer.
And on another evening, well-dressed patrons of the arts enjoyed an evening of romantic music sung by Oleg Alexandrov in the Penthouse Suite of the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy. It was a rather typical cultural evening — except that all the proceeds went to the children's aid charity Life Line.
Throughout Moscow and Russia, hotels are providing support to myriad charitable organizations, not only by making their venues available for activities, but through a variety of innovative and interactive programs.
Spreading the Love
In 1998, Dubliner Debbie Deegan came to the Hortalova orphanage in Western Russia to adopt a child and found her life's work. Her foundation, "To Russia With Love" has worked to change the lives of the children in Russian orphanages for the better — by improving their living conditions, helping them make relationships with families, providing them assistance and support as they leave their orphanages and go out into the world. About five years ago, Deegan established a relationship with Bert Fol, then the manager of the Marriott Aurora Hotel. "He sat down with me and said that he wanted to know what they could do that would genuinely benefit the children. He was adamant that he didn't want a PR stunt for the hotel. Initially their help was tangible: donations of half-used bottles of shampoo, sheets and towels. Then they did a renovation and the wardrobes, carpets, and furniture came to us."
But over time the hotel's assistance became more meaningful and involved. "They brought the children in to meet with the kitchen staff, to work with porters, managers, housekeepers. Children were exposed to every kind of employment in the hotel, and the staff really got involved." Later the Marriott hotels put cash boxes in the lobby and envelopes in the rooms to gather funds for the Irish-registered charity.
Today the Renaissance Monarch Center Hotel, part of the Marriott group, is continuing and expanding the relationship with "To Russia With Love." General Manager Armin Eberhard said in a recent interview that they would continue to bring children to the hotel for master classes in various aspects of hotel work, but also for parties and opportunities to form deeper relationships with the staff and others. "What these kids crave most, especially the young ones, is attention," he said. "It's tough because you get emotionally attached to them, and there are tears when they leave." He was pleased with how successful their Saturday afternoon family day was. "We saw kids and families interacting. It takes away the fear of contact — parents can talk with them, it's comfortable for them. And we raised 56,000 rubles for the charity that day. We want to do much more."
Speaking About the Unspeakable
In 1992, Evelyn H. Lauder began a mission to defeat breast cancer through research and public awareness campaigns. She launched her first October awareness campaign with a pink ribbon, now recognized around the world as a symbol of breast health.
The Estee Lauder companies have worked to improve knowledge about breast cancer in Russia, too. This year Moscow joined the movement when the Hilton Leningradskaya lit their iconic building with bright pink lights and held an event to draw attention to the cause. Some of the guests were there to provide moral support, but a few were there to accept it. One woman, who wished not to be identified, said she was there with her mother "because we've had breast cancer in the family. With other diseases you can talk about it. But with breast cancer — you're alone. Events like this may make it easier for society to talk about it." Hotel general manager Francois Morvan said he was pleased to support "such a great cause."
But this is not the hotel's only charitable activity. The Hilton Leningradskaya has been working for many years with several orphanages in the Moscow region, providing financial and material aid as well as bringing children to the hotel for master classes, parties and cultural events in the city. Staff members also volunteer to help the children adjust to life and work after they graduate from school and leave their orphanages.
Access for All
Sometimes the greatest gifts a hotel can provide are simply meeting space and rooms that are accessible to their guests. Denise Roza, director of Perspektiva, an organization that provides support and advocacy for people with disabilities, recalls the days when they had to take the doors off bathrooms so that people in wheelchairs could attend events at Moscow hotels. Today Perspektiva has relationships with a number of Moscow hotels, both international brands like the Ritz-Carlton, Holiday Inn and Marriott hotels, and Russian brands, like the Hotel Alpha — places where rooms are accessible and fees are discounted.
For Russian charities, the assistance provided by hotels is not just helpful — it's invaluable. As Roza said recently, "We couldn't do what we do without the help of hotels. We hold big events with a lot of people, mostly with disabilities, and on our limited budgets we couldn't do anything without discounts and free services."