We Have to Take Care of Each Other: Interview with Omni Grove Park Inn’s Tracey Johnston- Crum

Tracey Johnston-Crum (2)It was three years ago in September when Children First/Communities In Schools (CIS) found out that they had been chosen to be one of Omni Grove Park Inn’s holiday partners for the Gingerbread House competition. One of the premier events in the region, the Gingerbread competition draws in thousands of visitors to the luxury resort hotel – this in addition to the thousands of visitors that were vacationing at the resort. There just wasn’t enough staff to handle the additional traffic flow.

That is when the Omni Grove Park Inn decided they needed to charge visitors to the Gingerbread House competition a parking fee. This also gave them an opportunity to give money back to the community by donating portions of this fee to 6 local nonprofits.

“When we started searching for holiday partners, we wanted those direct care organizations that truly made a difference in the lives of people in Buncombe County. We chose Children First/CIS because they make a huge impact in the lives of children, and they really shine in our community,” says Tracey Johnston-Crum, Director of Public Relations & Community Outreach for Omni Grove Park Inn. “It made absolute sense that they (Children First/CIS) would be one of our primary partners.”

“With one in four of our children living in poverty here in Buncombe County, the need is great,” adds Allison Jordan, Executive Director of Children First/CIS. “This is a great collaboration between a business and a non-profit that share the same values, and an example of how businesses and non-profits can work together to make our community a better place to live and to work.”

The Omni Grove Park Inn is recognized as one of the oldest and most renowned landmarks in our region. For over 100 years old, it has hosted dignitaries, presidents, authors, artists and world leaders. “We are in the business of hospitality.” says Tracey. But they take as much pride in ensuring their staff are as happy and valued as their guests. “Our staff are our teammates. If you don’t take care of your staff, who will take care of the guests?”

Because of this philosophy, they offer many amenities to their employees, such as a free uniform laundering service, a staff food bar that only costs between $1.25 to $2.50, free bus passes and “snow care.”

Snow care is a program that is particularly close to Tracey’s heart, as she is the single mother of a 5th grade daughter. If Asheville City Schools has to cancel school due to inclement weather, Omni Grove Park Inn employees can bring their school-age children to spend the day at the Sports Complex for no charge. The children swim, have lunch, do arts and crafts, and play games all under adult supervision, while mom and/or dad can still work their shift and not lose a day’s pay. These programs are all to help working parents and individuals meet some of the costs involved in living in Asheville and Buncombe County, which can be daunting.

“It shouldn’t cost you money to make money,” Tracey says with a knowing smile.

Knowing that health care is also a huge issue for their staff, the Omni Grove Park Inn has a doctor come every Tuesday to the property, so that staff can get prescriptions filled, have a medical consultation and referrals. This service is provided for free to all staff, which allows employees to not have to lose time from work to visit the doctor, they aren’t charged a co-pay, and parents get the luxury of a doctor’s visit without having to worry about childcare.

Children First/CIS and the Omni Grove Park Inn share many of the core values that drive their organizations- opportunity, justice, success, mutual respect and community collaboration. “The children in our community are well served. Children First/CIS impacts the lives of so many of our local children, says Tracey. “The Omni Grove Park Inn is in the business of hospitality, and we can help financially support the work of Children First/CIS. We are one city, one community. We have to take care of each other.”


Children First/CIS is a local non-profit that believes all children deserve to reach their full potential. We help achieve this by surrounding children and their families with supports that help them succeed in their schools, communities and homes. Whether that’s providing a food box, tutoring in school and after-school, getting school supplies, teaching parenting skills or helping families meet basic needs, we’re there. Along with our direct services we also advocate for policies that support families with local and state policy makers. To find out more go to www.childrenfirstcisbc.org.