Children love Canyon 49’s tree lighting … and snow
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Gillian Rea
GCU News Bureau
They came for the lighting of the Canyon 49 Grill’s Christmas tree … and the cookies … and the hot chocolate … and Santa … and the music … and, so harmoniously, the chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Little did they know they would get to play in the snow.
The sight of children dancing merrily on the patio, catching machine-made snowflakes, no doubt will be the enduring memory of Canyon 49’s first lighting ceremony Wednesday night. But what the turnout of Grand Canyon University students, GCU/Grand Canyon Education employees and their families didn’t know was how much work went into the event – and who did most of it.
Students, that’s who. Lots of students. Even over their fall break.
Karen Madlock, who last summer was named the first student general manager of GCU Hotel and Canyon 49 Grill, marshaled her student administrative team to spend at least two hours a day on the project starting in mid-November.
But it required a lot of dexterity – students who work in the restaurant filled in at the hotel, and vice versa.
“It was a cool opportunity for cross-training,” Madlock said.
It also was a cool opportunity for learning, once again, what good management is all about: thinking of a lot of creative ideas and then adjusting when things go awry and going the extra mile – or 10 miles. Canyon 49 staff thought of everything, right down to having some employees dressed as elves, and even during the tree-lighting event, the restaurant was catering several events.
“You can have an idea of what you want it to be, but you might have to change it and that’s OK,” said Madlock, whose “Merry Everything” sweater seemed like an appropriate way to commemorate the experience. “The management team put in so many hours – it was a great example for the student workers. I love my admins. They did so well.”
A good example of what could go wrong: Brett Cortright, manager of GCU Hotel and Canyon 49, ordered two snowflake-making machines, but one of them was damaged badly during shipping. There’s an example of why you order two.
The children were having a festive time when the tree was lit, but then Cortright pointed to the patio as, right on cue, the snowflakes started drifting down. The kids’ reaction – sprinting in that direction, as if Christmas had come early – made you wonder how many of them had ever seen snow, real or make believe.
The event also was an opportunity to continue to raise awareness about GCU’s partnership with Phoenix Rescue Mission (PRM). There are bins in Canyon 49 for PRM’s Winter Wonderland Toy and Gift Drive, which runs through Dec. 11 and aims to benefit 1,600 children.
Again, GCU students are heavily involved. Nicole Pena, PRM’s Chief Development Officer, said what impresses about the students is that they, too, contribute toys in addition to their time.
“What’s nice about GCU is the students aren’t that far removed from being children,” said Pena, noting that they give more teenager-appropriate gifts, which PRM needs in addition to presents for toddlers. “When I was in college, I don’t think I would have thought about providing a toy for a needy kid.”
Pena considers GCU the No. 1 partner for the drive, which was demonstrated at the men’s basketball game Tuesday night when fans attending the game donated 346 pounds of toys.
But the support of the Mission goes far beyond that. Pena said GCU students have put in more than 4,000 hours of work for the Mission this year, from the nursing students who run the Mission’s clinic every Wednesday to the business students who have helped the Mission Possible Café with its marketing needs.
Much of the work is behind the scenes, but the students’ work at the tree lighting was front and center. In both cases, it is part of the GCU learning experience.
“The point is to create a family environment,” Cortright said, “and to give students a lesson.”
Consider the lesson learned: Work hard, have fun while you’re doing it, adjust on the fly … and don’t forget the snow-making machine.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].