By: Jen Russon
Moises Lobaton, a 2018 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas and current student at The Burnett Honors College at UCF, said it makes his day to interact with hotel guests. He loves finding out where they are from, what brought them to Orlando, and how he can help.
He said that reading positive reviews about his customer service is a real high for him.
It’s that kind of charisma that resulted in the 19-year-old hospitality/marketing student being chosen as one of ten national recipients of the Walmart Rediscovering America Scholarship.
The $10,000 award was granted to Lobaton in partnership with the prestigious James Beard Foundation, which supports aspiring female chefs and chefs of color to pursue careers in food and hospitality.
When he received a letter telling him he won the scholarship, Lobaton said that, while not an overly emotional person, the news choked him up.“There is literally no better feeling in the world than having a company like Walmart support and validate me like this,” he said.
A freshman at the University of Central Florida, Lobaton grew up in Coral Springs, after moving from Venezuela when he was just two-months-old. His parents now live in Parkland. He has two siblings, a 26 year-old-brother in med school, and sister who is a year behind him studying marketing at UCF.
To win the award, Lobaton had to make a compelling case for why he chose to work in hospitality, as well as provide letters of recommendation from the mentors in his life.
One of his recommendation letters came from faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas – Mitchell Albert, who teaches hospitality classes at the high school. Lobaton said Albert definitely inspired him to go into this field.
“Hospitality is so diverse. I learned that it’s always changing. Mr. Albert’s class was the reason I wanted to pursue this field, honestly,” said Lobaton.
The ambitious teen added how grateful he was – not just for mentors like Albert, but for Walmart.
Having just moved off campus and into his first apartment, Lobaton admitted he breathes easier, not having to ask his parents for help with his bills.
“I want my parents to have an easier time with selling their house – for them to relax and enjoy themselves more,” Lobaton said of his parents, who now are empty-nesters in Parkland.
“They were so happy when I won the $10,000 because I had already applied for seven different scholarships and been turned down. It’s an amazing feeling – to know I have so much support in pursuing my dreams.”
Now in its second year, Rediscovering America aligns Walmart with nine renowned local chefs, all recognized by the James Beard Foundation as Best Chef Award semifinalists and five local farms in cities throughout the east coast.
Rendering organic food into menus worthy of a four-star chef was a logical step in Walmart’s Rediscovering America kick-off this summer. In August, many of the chefs turned out at the James Beard House in New York City and cooked their hearts out in support of local farms and farmers.
Lobaton said he wholeheartedly agrees that bringing fresh, organic produce to more homes in America is in the same wheelhouse as delivering exceptional hospitality.
He added scholarships like the one he just earned are a significant first step in achieving his biggest goal as a purveyor of hospitality, which he put succinctly.
“I want to help bridge the gap between underrepresented minorities and employment opportunities in this industry.”
- Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.