COLLINGWOOD, Ont. — Living Water Resort and Spa prides itself on having a caring culture, and family spirit that includes employees, guests and vacation ownership members. That culture was certainly challenged by the coming of COVID-19.
“We started off having to face reality because of the times,” said Larry Law, president and CEO. “We realized that we would have to lay off hundreds of people, and it was a mental shock to us, and quite a challenge. We see our staff as family members, and thought about what we could do for our family. We were talking to the team in tears.”
“You could see the pain in all of our faces regarding what was going to happen,” added Don Buckle, vice-president of resort operations. “Everyone was panicking — especially if they hadn’t lived through SARS. The restaurant shut down first when it was mandated [in mid-March]; then we physically shut the resort down. We still had guests after the border closed, but we couldn’t put employees’ safety in jeopardy. It was a business decision — the front desk people were scared, so we made the decision to shut down.”
“Many staff are living pay check to pay check, and the 55 per cent of wages they would get from employment insurance was not sufficient,” said Law. “We decided we had a bit of money in the bank and that we could top up the benefits to 90 per cent of their salaries, at least for the first 30 days. It cost $170,000, but we just did it.” This money helped the employees up until the federal government money kicked in.
“It was comforting for them to know that they didn’t need to worry about the next 30 days and that they would be topped up,” said Buckle. “On the day we had to lay off the bulk of our team members, we offered them a choice of staying and working full time hours or to take the layoff with the top-up. About 50 per cent decided to work and 50 per cent to take the layoff.”
The Mexicans who were victims of human trafficking (read more here), were part of the community that came together to help. “The Mexican workers were proud to help someone; a few have been promoted within the organization and two helped lead the COVID-19 efforts.
Living Water kept people on as long as they could to do day-to-day maintenance, with the idea of doing as much as they could for as long as they could. The focus was on preventative maintenance and deep cleaning. The resort also offered takeout from Lakeside Bar and Grill. They added some safety measures as well.
“Wearing masks and screening is going to be hard because we want to be hospitable,” Law said. “We’re adding feet markers and 40 hand sanitizer stations, even though we had already beefed those up before the closure. We will be spraying all golf carts to make sure they are disinfected. We have put a lot of thought into this. We have face shields that don’t have bands for the comfort of staff.”
During the pandemic, donations to the Living Water Resorts Caring Hearts Staff Relief Fund enabled them to deliver food baskets to the laid off staff. They did that twice — once at Easter, and once on Mother’s Day. The Christian Business Mission Group in Collingwood donated some money, as did some of the business associates who were not laid off, golf members, previous guests, fractional owners, and timeshare members. The staff who were still working also helped as well, chipping in and buying baskets. Some of the recipients who did not need the baskets, donated them to the Journey Community Church Collingwood to help the needy in the local community. In all, they delivered 327 food baskets.
“When we did the baskets on Mother’s Day, it was a dad-proof dinner to serve for Mom. We had a photo contest to share the day,” said Buckle. The winning photo was published online in the company newsletter.
They also looked at ways to help the local community, Law told CLN. “We wondered what we could do to help. My daughter, Beverly, is a costume designer in New York City. She volunteered to donate hundreds of masks to a local New York hospital. Beverly’s caring actions inspired me to directly import 2,000 KN95 masks from China to support and donate to our front line workers at Collingwood Marine and General Hospital.”
“Mental wellbeing is important,” said Law. “Every Friday, we invite Pastor Dan [Chatham of Journey Community Church Collingwood] share positive messages with our staff. By doing so, we connect with each other better and support each other like a caring family.”
Living Water has worked with Brian Saunderson, mayor of Collingwood, and a social organization to accommodate the homeless, and he was one of nine community members invited to sit on a task force to advise what to do now and in the near future to ensure the town’s healthy recovery.
The resort currently has 40 people working on site towards a June 10 opening.
“The learnings from the pandemic are twofold. First, we should be humble ourselves realize that no matter how good we are, we have limitations. I would be submissive to the loving God. Second, we should recognize that together we can do good things, make the world better, be less self-serving and have more of a higher purpose.” said Law. “I am so proud of our company and our culture. I see things the old fashioned way, with family and culture, loving, caring and respect for each other, regardless of capacity.”