EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth in a six-day series on ways local residents are reinventing themselves in hard times.
In her drive to create memorable travel experiences for Rogue Valley visitors, Gigi LaRossa created a job for herself.
LaRossa, who was laid off in April from her job as an in-house corporate travel consultant at Harry & David, recently became chief concierge at the Ashland Springs Hotel. She is the first person at the boutique hotel to hold the job, which is uncommon in Southern Oregon.
"She put together this position on her own," said Karolina Wyszynska, the hotel's director of sales and marketing. "We knew larger hotels in larger cities had concierges, but we relied on our front-desk and sales staff."
But those employees had their own duties to attend to, so Wyszynska's interest was piqued when LaRossa contacted her with a proposal to add a new level of customer service at the hotel — a service that could promote people staying longer as they discovered all that the region had to offer.
"I got excited about what we could do with this," Wyszynska said.
LaRossa positively brims with excitement over a job that will enable her to share her passion for exploring the Rogue Valley and her travel expertise.
She worked 30 years in the airline and travel industry, much of it while based in Reno, Nev.
While traveling back to Nevada from a visit to the Oregon Coast a decade ago, she fell in love with Jacksonville, where she moved six years ago and still makes her home.
"My heart brought me here," she said.
After dwindling corporate travel eliminated her consulting job last spring, LaRossa feared she would have to leave the valley she loved to seek work elsewhere.
"My spirit was broken," she said.
She credited The Job Council for providing a raft of services and support for people seeking work. She used its assessment tools to help evaluate what was important to her in her career and took workshops and classes in computer skills and writing resumes and cover letters. The council's on-the-job training program will reimburse the hotel half of her salary for up to three months as she learns her new job.
"She was one of our most enthusiastic and outgoing clients," said Jill Wilson, program manager at The Job Council.
LaRossa said she tapped into her love of socializing to network with others to get out the word about her skills and interests. She volunteered with United Way and at the Senior Center in Central Point.
"I love public contact, so I reached out to people," she said. Friends, fellow volunteers, people she had worked with and the professionals at The Job Council offered tips, suggestions and words of encouragement when it mattered most — such as when a day on the couch lost in daytime television seemed like all she could muster.
"It was tough," LaRossa said of her period of unemployment.
She remained dogged, though. She took online training from Travel Oregon, and, as she focused in on potential careers, contacted the Portland Concierge Association and traveled north to shadow the pros in her new chosen field.
She started work at Ashland Springs Hotel on Dec. 8. She's still settling in at her desk in the corner of the lobby, where she can watch people stream by on the sidewalk outside. She's also hit the streets herself, seeking out good Irish coffee and the best bead store — two queries guests have already presented her with.
She's introducing herself to merchants, explaining who she is and what she wants to do — guide hotel guests to the best services and activities in Southern Oregon. She's helping round up lists of local happy hours and identify potential partners who might offer discounts to Ashland Springs customers in an effort to build their own client bases.
She's exploring local history and brushing up on her Shakespeare. She'll fold in her enthusiasm for local wines and hiking trails, restaurants and festivals, so she can guide travelers to a memorable experience of Southern Oregon.
"I want them to linger longer," she said. "There is so much more here than most people anticipate."
A history buff who was departing from the hotel on Wednesday left with a list of local museums and cemeteries to add to her itinerary on her next visit.
"I want to get them off the beaten path," said LaRossa, who plans to start calling people when they make reservations so she can get special requests in advance and offer advice and assistance that will help make their visit perfect.
"It's fun to see that we are giving that extra touch to our guests and helping local businesses be visible," Wyszynska said.
Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail email@example.com.
Correction: The wrong caption accompanied the original version of this story. This version has been updated with the correct information.