Embassy Suites and Harvest Middle School Garden Project Flourishes

Adopt-a-School program benefits businesses and schools

Napa Valley Register
Published on December 23, 2018

In 2014, the general manager of Embassy Suites Napa returned from a meeting about the local Adopt-a-School program, and asked the hotel’s human resources director, Cheryl Velasquez, to find a school to support.

With a little creativity and a lot of heart, that request started a partnership with Harvest Middle School that is a successful model for how Napa Valley businesses can support local schools.

Hilton Worldwide grants provide funding

Embassy Suites is part of Hilton Worldwide, which has a Travel with Purpose Action Grant program.

These grants are intended to support the development of local projects and strengthen the quality of life in the communities that Hilton Worldwide hotels serve.

One of the requirements for the grants is that hotel teams must be involved in any proposed projects.

Initially, Embassy Suites Napa started the relationship by providing students at nearby Harvest Middle School with a treat: In the first year, hotel team members made 658 caramel apples and delivered them to the students.

Giving apples is now an annual tradition with 830 apples provided this year.

A self-sustaining, virtuous cycle

Embassy Suites Napa installs watering system

In 2015, Velasquez applied for one of the action grants after meeting with Harvest science teacher Karen Fleming, who had started a vegetable garden as an elective option for seventh and eighth grade students.

The use of the resulting $3,000 grant began a self-supporting, virtuous cycle: The Embassy Suites engineering team installed a watering system in a matter of three days.

Fast forward to today to find students planting the garden, tending it and Fleming delivering vegetables regularly to Grille 29, the restaurant at Embassy Suites.

Embassy Suites purchases the produce and the revenue from the produce is reinvested into garden tools, supplies and plants to sustain the garden. Grille 29 prominently features the produce on its menus.

“Students care for, weed, harvest, maintain and figure out how to make the garden look beautiful,” Fleming said.

“They are learning life skills while we cover math and science standards. Equally important, students see the product of their work in a public setting, they understand the economics involved and they take immense pride in their efforts. We are so grateful for the support from Embassy Suites.”

Harvest Middle School students tend the garden
Harvest Middle School students tend the garden

“Beyond learning about gardening, students are creating, reflecting on their work and then revising it to see a real product being made,” added Monica Ready, principal at Harvest Middle School.

“This is part of the design process we teach here that includes inquiry, prototyping, testing and making corrections, and evaluating solutions. It’s great to see this level of success.”

Businesses benefit from Adopt-a-School relationships

“The value of this partnership affects every team member at Embassy Suites,” Velasquez said.

“The children and teachers are so appreciative, and it gives our team a sense of purpose and the feeling that working here is more than just a job. Many of our employees have children at the school, too.”

Velasquez went on to advise other businesses, “Partnering with schools doesn’t have to be grandiose. Start with one project, one idea or one day in the school. It bonds your team and gets you involved in our community.”

“Don’t let negative perceptions — like it’s too expensive or we don’t have the time or we don’t know what to do — stop you. Schools are so thankful for having someone that cares about them and we benefit as much as they do, if not more.”

Schools looking for adopters

Businesses interested in participating in the Adopt-a-School program should contact NapaLearns, or call 707-265-2712 to get more information about schools in need of adoption.

This article originally appeared in the Napa Valley Register, December 23, 2018.