MANILA, September 14, 2005
 (STAR) People Asia Magazine - Al Rivera, the director of Food and Beverage at The JW Marriott Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, has founded a training and exchange program that has enabled Filipino hoteliers and artisans to train and work in various Marriott hotels in the US and UK. In doing so, he has not only given them jobs; he has given them recognition.

With everything that has happened and is happening in our country, a common question has been tossed to and fro: Is being Filipino still cause for pride? Some just take the national situation with as much cynicism as possible, choosing to bicker and complain. Some have chosen to remain indifferent. But there are still some out there, like international hotel executive Al Rivera, who trusts so much in the Filipino, his strengths and potentials, that he does everything to give as many of them a chance to live their dreams.

Al Rivera is the director of Food and Beverage at The JW Marriott Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. (the flagship hotel of Marriott International), which is located just two blocks away from the White House. He graduated from San Beda College with a major in Banking and Finance. He began his career as a room service manager at Loews Anatole, Dallas and was promoted to banquet manager. He joined Marriott in 1983 and has been there ever since, holding various positions like catering manager at Dallas Marriott Quorum and food and beverage manager at Marriott Miami Airport.

In addition, he also participated in the opening of the following domestic and international Marriott Hotels, San Francisco, California Moscone Marriott, Long Island, New York Windwatch Marriott, Newport, Rhode Island Marriott, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Marriott and Toronto Eaton-Centre and Canada Marriott. He currently manages the entire Food and Beverage operation to include all restaurants, lounges, room service, banquet services, event technology, event management, catering and the culinary team.

In a very competitive city like DC, where millions of tourists, conventioneers, business and professional people, students, lobbyists, politicians and numerous other visitors are constantly arriving, a huge social event is almost always happening. When an event takes place at one of the various banquet and ballrooms of the hotel, chances are you will see Al Rivera personally seeing to it that all requests of the sponsors are followed. And when there are visiting dignitaries, Al is one of the top executives assigned to officially welcome them and extend the services and hospitality of the hotel. He has met with and welcomed Philippine Presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; and US Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr., George W. Bush and other foreign dignitaries.

Rivera is an inspiration to Filipinos striving to reach the top of the ladder of the glamorous and high-earning senior executive level of management in any given industry.

One way he expressed pride in the Filipino was by starting and implementing an AIPT (Association for International Practical Training) program within the Marriott group. AIPT is a designated sponsor of the J-1 visa for the Exchange Visitor Program. Through this program, candidates from the Philippines are allowed to train in a Marriott Hotel in the States for several months, where they gain invaluable experience and training that serve them well when they return to the country.

A1 Rivera has worked diligently with AIPT to develop training plans for its program participants and to ensure that each participant receives quality on-the-job training experience at the Marriott Hotel Properties. For the last 10 years, Al has hired Filipinos from major Philippine hotels. He usually selects college graduates of a four-year Hotel and Restaurant Management course or college students with two years of hotel experience. He has also managed to hire kitchen artists from Paete, Laguna for 18 months of training and development at different major Marriott Hotels in the US.

Ten years into the implementation of the program, Rivera was able to send 265 Filipinos to different Marriott Hotels in the US, training in all different departments. He visits the Philippines once a year and conducts interviews in the ballroom of the Century Park Hotel. The screening lasts for two and a half weeks, after which the final selections are announced. The chosen candidates are given a designated hotel, state and date of departure, which takes place 90 days from the date of selection.

Every year, there are some 500 to 550 applicants who are all eager, anxious and excited to qualify for this program. The chosen participants are provided training pay and, when needed, financial advances for the AIPT fee, plane tickets and three months advancement for apartment rental, all of which are payable on a weekly payroll deduction during 90 days of training.

His staff maintains that if you have gone through an interview with him, "you will never be the same… You will be able to interview anywhere else with a boatload of confidence."

Naturally, graduates of this training course have nothing but praise and gratitude for Rivera. "I will always and high be grateful to Mr. Rivera and AIPT for their full support and trust and for giving me this great opportunity to work in the US," says Nadine Francisco, who trained at the flagship hotel in Washington. "I know that this unique, one-in-a-lifetime opportunity will help me face new and better challenges when I get home." The selected participants often commend Rivera for his hands-on and tireless help with the visa process and the transfer from the country to the US.

Rivera is particularly proud of the pool of applicants from the town of Paete, Laguna, who are called "kitchen artists." They can carve wood, ice, cheese, fruits, vegetables, chocolate and butter into intricate designs. They are the highlight at the JW Marriott Washington DC during the holiday season. A recent display included seven monuments carved in dark and white chocolate of the Abraham Lincoln Monument, the White House. Albert Einstein, Iwo Jima Memorial, US Capitol, Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. Fox-5 News caught sight of their amazing designs and featured them live, interviewing Rivera and the five kitchen artists from Paete.

Rivera and his staff assert that the residents and the town of Paete are the beneficiaries of this program. The majority of graduates have been able to build homes, invest in private business ventures and pay for past obligations for family medical expenses. Last year, the 10 graduates who came back home to the Philippines were fortunate to move forward and left for another 18 months of training at the Marriott Resort Hotel located at St. Kitts, West Indies-United Kingdom. Someday, Al jokes that he "can very well run for mayor of Paete," where a lot of citizens and families are grateful for the income and the improved economic levels.

Some of the trainees are even fortunate enough to gain more than what they expected. Five kitchen artists and a restaurant supervisor that went to the US in 1999 and returned home in 2001 upon completion of 18 months of training came back to the US last December of 2003 with their spouses and children as permanent residents of the US. Currently, there are two trainees that are back permanently at the New Orleans Marriott and four trainees at the Philadelphia Marriott that will go back to Philadelphia in June-July 2005. They will be taking their families to the US.

With his wife Angela, a graduate of Assumption College and a former OB Montessori teacher, Rivera contemplates how it would be nice to teach in a hotel and restaurant management school in the Philippines and share some hotel experiences with our hoteliers and future HRM graduates. Every year, when he goes to Manila to play in golf tournaments, he accepts guest speaker invitations from schools like De La Sane, St. Scholastica, FEU, St. Paul's and OB Montessori, to showcase the hotel industry and to encourage the youth to continue living their dreams.

Is the Filipino still worth being proud of? Everyone has a different answer to that question. But if you ask people like Al Rivera, with all the effort they have placed on emphasizing and highlighting what we can do as a people, that question seems like a crazy one to ask.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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