As most everyone knows, Christina has been traveling quite a bit and we have had quit a few crazy weeks. So we apologize for the lack of recent updates. However I think the wait will be worth it. I’ve taken over the blog for a night and I have some amazing things to share. I am starting out with a different kind of post tonight. One that I want everyone to know is not a post about saying Thank You or a post about promoting anything. It is a post about how experiences and moments shape out lives and this experience happens to be associated with a company who just gets it. This type of experience, culture and passion to treat people like people and not like $$ doesn’t come along often. So not only does it touch me personally, it has also positively impacted me professionally. I design experiences for customers for a living, and this has to be one of the best I have ever seen. As a culture we are always the first to tell companies and people what they are doing wrong, however we barely recognize when they really do something right. Well I am here to tell you that this post is about doing something so very right, personal and having nothing to do with $$, so very right that I am willing to share it here, one of the most personal spaces of our lives, not because we get anything out of it, but because sharing it with you could mean that another kid’s life is saved because a company and every one of their employees loves to come to work and strives to make the world a better place. It’s a little long, but I promise you worth the read.
So what does a $3 Door Hanger have to do with Caleb. Well let me share 350,000 ways it has to do with Caleb, how it lead us to new life long friends, how a simple door hanger brought a fresh view to my work driving Customer Experience for Humana and most importantly how a seamingly simple concept revealed to Christina and I a group of Superheroes, hiding in plain sight, fighting right alongside Caleb, from our hometown 832 miles away, and being a huge part of saving his life!
On November 5, 2018, Christina and I got on a plane for a quick trip back to Tampa, for the first time since we left, to perform a final walk thru of our family dream home before we would close a week later. Before we go there, let me take you back to mid-February 2018, to the moment Christina finally convinced me to “just go look” at this new community they were building in Brandon, “Let’s just go walk through the models for fun”, she kept saying over the course of a month, before I finally gave in on February 16, 2018.
Well, that very decision and everything that happened after it, led us to the moment a $3 Door Hanger would bring an amazing group of people into our lives….
We had sold our Sydney Rd. House, moved out of the Rental House in Valrico and hadn’t yet closed on our new house, so besides the St. Jude housing in Memphis we were homeless in our hometown. It had been 2 months since we had been back to Brandon, 2 months since we had even seen the house or any progress, it was now 20 days past the day we should have moved in and there was still an eternity of days before we might actually get to move in. Tomorrow we would walk through our dream home which we had spent a lifetime thinking about and have spent the past 8 months planning, designing and building it as a family. We drove by the house as a family almost every day, watched it grow from a grassy patch to a house, took pictures daily along the way, wrote our names on the block which would be inside the walls forever and had even met new friends and neighbors already. But that dream home didn’t mean anything until all 4 of us walked through the front door together. We know that day will one day come, it has to, and we will keep our dream home there empty until that day comes.
So, in a daze of disbelief that we had to stay in a hotel in the town we normally live in, emotionally drained at how hard it was coming back and beyond tired, we walked, not into just a hotel in Brandon, we walked into the Home2Suites in Brandon, a hotel we have used for many of our visiting family members many times before, and a hotel which would prove to feel as close to home as it could, filled with people who would become our family and the place where a $3 Door Hanger would soon reveal an ENTIRE COMPANY of Superheroes for Caleb and so many other kids fighting for their lives…..
As most of you know, I lead Customer Experience Transformation at Humana and previously lead Customer Experience for Bank of America’s financial centers. Because of that I look differently at the way companies treat their customers. I am not necessarily any more critical, but I do notice the little things, the way associates talk, act or just present themselves. It’s the little things that make all the difference, not just having free breakfast or a water in the room. Greet me by name when you can, say hi in the hallway, offer up something small just because you can. It doesn’t have to be a discount or something that costs a lot, just that little extra. Also because of what I do I tend to seek out companies who really know their customers and create an experience for them, especially loyal customers like me, who have taken the time to join their rewards program and while I may not be some elite member, you can see I stay upwards of 50+ nights a year, or come here 4 times a week etc. Loyalty isn’t the same as elite reward member. So for example, I spend 50+ nights a year in a hotel room due to work and personal travel and I want to know what to expect every time I check in. For me, that company is Hilton, I will literally go out of the way to find a Hilton hotel even if some other brand is closer to where we need to be. Well, with what I am about to share, there will be very few times in my life where I will use any other Hotel brand and while I don’t say this much, I truly hope everyone reading this will do the same!
*Note we are not affiliated in any way or receiving any compensation for any of this. We are regular customers who happen to have already loved Hilton hotels, their rewards and what they offer in most of their locations. This is a heartfelt post which is more about sharing an amazing experience I can only hope others would enjoy as well.
Well, as we walked in the door of the Home2Suites past midnight, drained and emotional about the next day, both of us immediately saw a sign that said, “Proud Supporters of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital”. Wait….what…..we hardly even knew about St. Jude before all this and I have been in 100s of hotels over the years and never seen one so proudly represent another organization. As we got closer, below that sign was a Door Hanger with a “$3” on it. It read, “Help us Conserve and Save Lives”, place this on your door when you leave for the day and let us know you don’t need full service, each night you do we will donate $3 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. (Check out the linked article I recently came across, amazing!) We both looked at each other and it was all we could do to hold back tears and break down right there in the lobby. I couldn’t believe it, before September we barely knew anything about St. Jude and now we had a full personal understanding of what St. Jude does and our son was there fighting for his life. And right in front of us is a local company helping Caleb fight from 100s of miles away by offering a great way to conserve energy and save kids lives…..our kids life….this wasn’t a coincidence, no way…..
The night manager greeted us very nicely and calmly given it was so late and she obviously could tell we were tired. She took my ID and Credit Card, thanked me for being a Gold member and then realized we had a local address. So as she typed she asked, “What brings you in tonight, I see you have a local address.” Well, after seeing the door hanger there and the St Jude shirt up on the wall I shared a 2 minute recap of our story and thanked them for supporting St. Jude since essentially they were supporting our family right now! This was one of the first times we shared our story with anyone outside of our family, it was quick and we tried not to be overly emotional about it both for us and for the person hearing the story. She listened to us until we were finished and what she did next is the best possible way for anyone to react when hearing this type of story. She was so nice and asked for our son’s name and if she could pray for his fight. We of course said yes please as we could use all we can get! We shared with her Caleb’s blog and with that we said goodnight and headed up to get a few hours sleep. We woke up the next morning and headed down to check out so we could get to the new house and check things out before the walk thru. As we checked out the day manager had started his day. He greeted us as we walked up and told us he had heard our story from the previous manager and offered his thoughts and prayers to us and told us if there is ever anything they can do to please ask them. I thought to myself, wow that is really nice and told Christina we would forever use this hotel for anyone staying in Brandon, recommend them to our friends and told her that Hilton just earned a new level of loyalty from me. This was above and beyond customer service, it’s real people taking an extra minute to care for other people. They didn’t have to, I still was happy with our stay, but they WANTED to and that’s what takes loyalty to the next level.
**Quick side note**
To help with the rest of the story let me explain a little about Hotel management. Vista Host is the Management company that owns and manages a good number of Hilton hotels across the US. The About Us page of their website says their purpose is “To inspire legendary potential by enhancing the lives of all we encounter, empower, and humbly serve”. Let me be the first to tell you this company couldn’t have defined their true purpose any better!
Fast forward a few weeks and I get a call on my cell phone from an 813 number. I missed the call and began to listen to the message (which I still have saved)……”Hi Mr. Grimsley, my name is Tasha and I am the general manager and director for the Home2Suites in Brandon and I wanted to let you know your story has touched the heart of our company and I was calling to get your address as we would like to send a few things to brighten up Caleb’s day. If you wouldn’t mind giving me a call back, I look forward to talking with you.” A day later I called Tasha back and we probably talked for more than 30 mins, I was simply blown away at the fact that not only did we have a great experience that night, they shared it across their company and were genuinly checking in on us and had been keeping up every time we shared a blog post. In the end I shared our address and hung up with a whole new perspective on how such a simple moment in time that night will change the way I look at companies (holding them to a new standard using Hilton as an example), change the way I treat and talk with the people that work in the places I go every day and most of all change the way I look at Hilton the brand and especially Vista Host/Home2Suites. If every company and employee took even 10% of what this company does for people, the entire world would be a better place!
A couple weeks went by and Caleb got a break from treatment, giving us the chance to go home for a few weeks for Thanksgiving (and a chance to live in our house for a few weeks for the FIRST TIME!). It also gave my parents a chance to come visit the kids for a while without having to fly to Memphis. So, instead of staying at our place, guess where we booked them to stay! 🙂
In order to make it through whatever the future holds it is going to take a village and I can’t imagine having a better village than people like those in this story (who work for Vista Host/Hilton for a reason, not just because they are good at their job, but because they are good at LIFE). Every one of them are complete strangers, we’ve never met in person, most we have never even spoken to, yet they take the time to read about our family, share encouragements and bring light to the darkest of hours. And those who consistenly check in with us, send random messages with encouragement and prayers, call and talk when we can, send cards and mail as that brightens the kids days more than anyone could know or even just silently say a prayer each night for Caleb. We are humbled and literally can’t find words in our language to Thank You ALL enough! The best we can do is continue to share Caleb’s story, stories like the one you are reading now and every truth in between because if there is even the smallest chance Caleb’s story might help another family or inspire someone to Give to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, we will keep sharing his story, his fight, the good, the bad and eventually how he survived to pay it forward to each and every person who supported him during the fight of his life!
Coincidentally a few days before we were heading back to Memphis a FedEx box shows up at the house and inside that box was the first amazing gesture this team of unsung Superheroes would provide to Caleb and our family. Inside the box was a hand written note from the COO of Vista Host, sharing how Caleb’s story and Blog had meant so much to them and had been shared across their teams. He went on to say how they were avid supporters of St. Jude and their Founder (Michael V Harrell) was a firm believer in community and the importance of giving back to such an amazing cause. We were so humbled and blown away by how Caleb had the chance to touch so many lives through his courage and strength. Joe, the COO of Vista Host had also included a St. Jude shirt signed by their entire management team and again letting us know how much they were praying for us! I sat there in silence, trying to grasp the breavity of this gesture. They didn’t have to do this, they had already been amazing and shown us what a great company they were, instead Joe took time out of his day to hand write this note, pass around the shirt to be signed and then send it to us. It was that moment we realized we had to continue sharing Caleb’s journey, his story and the highs and lows of everything in between. Not everything is good, life will never be the same and even tonight as I write this I can’t even begin to grasp everything we may have to face, but what I do know is we wouldn’t have made it this far without the love and support of so many friends, family, friends of friends and most amazingly of all, complete strangers….
Since receiving that amazing first package…
- Tasha (the local Home2Suites Brandon Manager) and I talk weekly about Caleb and other little things that may not make the blog. (Check out the screenshot of my emails with her just this year!)
- We received cards, stickers and post cards from different Hilton hotels and their staff from across the country!
- In February 2019, the Home2Suites location ran a fundraiser in Caleb’s name and in celebration of his coming birthday. They collected donations through the purchase of hearts and proudly displayed them in the lobby along with this posterboard!!!
- And just a few days ago, Caleb received this same posterboard in a box with a HUGE birthday present collected by the employees of Vista Host and Home2Suites Brandon, FL!!!
I’ll let the video below speak for itself!!!
I share this story not to promote a company or the acts of kindness from complete strangers willing to help a local family as well as so many other families here at St. Jude, but to share how important the little moments in life are. Whether it was the moment we walked into the hotel and saw the $3 Door Hanger, the moment you decide to perform a random act of kindness for a stranger or the moment a stranger does something for you at the exact moment you needed it, it’s these moments that make life worth living.
Tasha, Joe, Home2Suites Team and All of the Vista Host Team, From our family to yours……THANK YOU!
Tasha H, Home2Suites Manager & Director
You are an amazing person and I can’t wait for the day we can meet in person. Vista Host is lucky to have you and the passion you have to care for you customers (who in some case become like family) is something you can’t teach. I design experiences every day for our customers and you can bet I will be modeling so many of those after you! Your card sits right in front of the posterboard as a regular reminder of how grateful we all are every day!
Oh and if there was ever an Employee of the Year or Biggest Impact made by an employee, you win HANDS DOWN!!!
Joe V, COO
You and your company live by your purpose statement, something I know is the future of every successful company. We cannot believe the outreach, thoughts, prayers, words of encouragement and all around support for Caleb. We are lucky to have crossed paths, your employees are lucky to be working for such an amazing place and most of all St. Jude is lucky to have you raising awareness and money. What you do has literally saved our son’s life and words aren’t enough to express our thanks for your companies dedication to this! Please keep it going as there are so many kids here benefiting from what you do!
Home2Suites Brandon, Local Superheroes
WOW, just wow! You guys and Tasha are some of the most amazing people we have never met 🙂 and I can’t wait to walk Caleb through your doors when we successfully finish treatment and come home to a town filled with people like you! I can promise you one of our first stops as soon as he comes home is your hotel! Thank you for bringing the BIGGEST smiles to Caleb and Tyler’s faces and bringing light to some of the harder days over the past couple months. While I don’t have the right words to say thank you enough, I think this video says it all!
Home2Suites, Fort Collins, Colorado
Thank you SO MUCH for the post cards. In fact it was an awesome surprise when Christina went home last weekend for a short visit to run a local set of races only to find your post cards there (they must have made it in before we forwarded our mail). She brought them back and Caleb was over the moon to get his own mail! When we are back to vacationing with the family, you guys better be ready for some visitors!
Hampton Inn, Altoona, PA
Thank you for the card and stickers. I wish I could have gotten a picture the day Christina came back with the card (it also was at our home in Brandon). I’ll just say that every sticker was used within about 10 mins. Mail excitement + stickers = one crazy sticker sticking happy kid!