Louis Montenegro was living in a homeless shelter in Santa Rosa, Calif., with only a bag and two pairs of pants when Enchantment Resorts in Sedona not only offered him a job, but also transportation and three months of free housing.
It all seemed too good be true. “I was like, ‘Yeah, right,’” 42-year-old Montenegro said when he first saw the ad on Craigslist. “I thought it looked like a scam.”
But it wasn’t a scam. In October, the resort reached out to hospitality professionals who were affected by the Sonoma wildfires to offer them employment as well as temporary housing and transportation to and from work.
“Lots of people have moved on their own without support,” said Nicole Rosas, director of Human Resources at Enchantment. “In Sonoma [Montenegro] was in a position of losing everything; we brought him as a successful great addition.”
Obstructed by Flames
Montenegro said his passion for hospitality began after he built up enough experience waiting tables at an Outback Steakhouse in Roseville, Calif., to move over to fine dining. It was Il Fornaio, an Italian-themed fine dining chain, that sparked his appetite for food, wine and creating the ultimate experience for guests.
“My passion for food and wine led me to the direction that took me to Sonoma,” Montenegro said. “I wanted to pursue crush season and was applying to various jobs in wining country.”
That’s where he was when the fires started in early October. All the local wineries suspended recruitment. When Montenegro tried to go back to waiting tables, all those gigs were affected by the fires and recruitment at restaurants also came to a halt. As firefighters worked toward containment, Montenegro started working in clean-up efforts to make ends meet.
This job would also eventually come to an end due to licensing problems. A single father of a 2-year-old, Montenegro desperately tried to find employment as the fires ravaged his housing as well as the storage facility that contained all his possessions, including personal records and photos of his daughter.
“During this time I was also cutting down trees for a private landowner, for rent,” he said. “That work also came to a halt due to the fires. That is how I ended up in a homeless shelter.”
From Homelessness to Employment
With the pressure of supporting his daughter, her mother and himself, Montenegro got up every day at 6 in the morning looking for work while staying at a shelter in Santa Rosa.
He said he remembers seeing displaced people just like him who were affected by the fires and competing in the inundated job market. He said he prayed to “somehow get out of this.”
“God bless the homeless, but I knew I didn’t belong there,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of; I’m driven, educated and career-focused. It was all very discouraging.”
Montenegro said he was using the Wi-Fi at a Starbucks the night he saw the ad for the position at Enchantment calling out to people affected by the Sonoma wildfires and offering not only employment, but also housing and transportation.
“I thought it sounded suspicious,” he said. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Shortly after Montenegro turned in his application, he began correspondence with the HR department at Enchantment. He still didn’t believe it when they offered him the job. It finally sank in when they started coordinating his travel from California to Arizona. Montenegro packed all his belongings in an army duffel bag the shelter gave him and used his last Lyft credit to get himself to the airport.
“Everything else was taken care of,” he said. “I wanted to learn how to do a backflip, I was so happy.”
Enchantment even arranged for a shuttle to pick Montenegro up from the airport.
“I was the only person in the shuttle,” he said. “It was one of those moments where you feel like it was meant to be.”
A New Home
After months of being emotionally drained, the Verde Valley gave Montenegro a welcoming sense of peace. He went from sleeping on the floor of a shelter to now having a two-bedroom apartment all to himself in Clarkdale.
He said he also feels a special connection to Boynton Canyon.
“I’m Apache and when I learned about the history of canyon, it reminded of my heritage,” he said. “I feel a connection to this canyon. It’s dubbed the healing canyon, and I feel it every day.”
Montenegro said when he started his new job as a server, he hit the ground running. “I was just so thankful to have a job,” he said. “Just to be able to send money to my daughter, to make sure her mom has what she needs to raise our baby.”
Enchantment promised Montenegro three months of free rent, giving him time to save and prepare for the future. At Enchantment, Montenegro said he enjoys his coworkers and guests, describing them as “fine crew” and “down to earth.”
He said the people at Enchantment have “saved his life.”
“You go through life and experience the cruel side of humanity in the workplace,” he said. “We keep trying to do good and finally you get to a point where all of that is rewarded. It feels like home here.”
Kelcie Grega can be reached at 282-7795 ext. 126, or email kgrega@larsonnewspapers.BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS