Hospitality and tourism major aids in flood relief during summer internship at The Greenbrier
The summer is over and students are back on campus, but Rachel Wruk is reminiscing about her summer spent interning at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Wruk, originally from Northern Virginia, is a junior, double-majoring in hospitality and tourism management and finance at the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics. A summer at The Greenbrier, a National Historic Landmark and world-class resort, might sound glamorous, but the southern part of West Virginia was hit with a disastrous flood on June 23, causing damage and devastation and more than 20 deaths in Greenbrier County alone.
“I don’t think I’ve ever [seen anything like this]. You can see it on the news and see what they are saying, but actually being down here is crazy,” she said. “I work with people who lost family members and lost their homes, and they’re still working.”
As the concierge intern at the resort, Wruk’s chief responsibility was to ensure the guests were happy. She was charged with making dinner reservations for the guests, planning itineraries for their stays and handling guests’ transportation around the community. Her passion for this work came from her years of traveling.
“When I was in high school, I traveled a lot. I’ve been to Thailand, many places in the Caribbean. I’ve been to Canada. As I went, I’ve stayed at several different resorts, showing how concierge teams were catering to us and just really making my entire day each and every day I was there at each resort,” Wruk said. “I thought it was pretty amazing that these people were living their lives to make my day better. I really admired that. I went back home to Northern Virginia and got a job at Trump National in D.C. as a banquet server. I’ve loved it ever since.”
With the pioneering spirit of a Mountaineer, Wruk said this internship was unlike any other professional experience. When The Greenbrier opened its doors to community members that were affected by the flood free of charge, Wruk said the only word to describe that feeling – inspirational.
“My internship has been a learning experience as a whole, but this just takes it one step further. These people really do inspire me every day. They are keeping smiles on their faces, and they aren’t letting a cloud keep them down,” she said. “They are always happy. Even the community members who did lose stuff, they might have had water damage in their house that they still need to get it fixed up, but they are out helping their neighbors that might have been hit worse. They really are all a family down here.”
“It’s not like a typical internship experience, but I have been able to experience things that I would not have been able to somewhere else. I get to see the manager’s side of quick decisions and how we implement a disaster plan,” Wruk said. “It touched on things management-wise that I would have never been able to experience. It was a once in lifetime chance that I was able to be interning when something like this happened.”
Wruk’s efforts to aid in flood relief were tireless. With the flow of cleaning supplies and more coming into the area, The Greenbrier also set up distribution centers, but Wruk wanted to take it a step further.
“A lot of people weren’t coming [to the distribution center], and I was thinking for a bit, ‘These people lost their homes; they lost their cars. If they didn’t, they at least had five feet of water in their homes. They don’t have time, energy or money to come get the supplies.” So, I asked my supervisor if I could fill up my car with a bunch of supplies and bring it to the local neighborhoods, and she liked that idea,” Wruk said. “Another intern and I filled up my car and went to the neighborhoods. We went door-to-door asking what they needed. We gave them baby food, pet food, cases of water. If we saw they were working, we asked if they needed cleaning supplies, gloves, shovels, masks. We just really went in and tried to find out what they needed.”
Now that school is back in session, Wruk wants to maintain momentum in her career and studies.
“After this summer, [I’m excited for] the development of myself. I want to go in and see how much I can accomplish and what I can do. I think this year is about self-development and how far I can get in my career and what advancements I can make,” she said.
She said she can’t do this, though, without the help of B&E and the Mountaineer family.
“In B&E, we have so many opportunities for students to succeed and get started on their career. I know Ajay (Aluri) and Frank (DeMarco), [both professors in the hospitality and tourism management program], have really put in the effort into all their students, making sure they succeed individually. I’ve never really seen a school as a whole come together. There really is nothing like the Mountaineer bond that we all have. Even being down [in White Sulphur Springs], I saw that,” she said.