The fundamentals of wine and food pairings, correct table-setting etiquette and extensive knowledge of different flavors and cuts of meats were on-the-job experiences Angela Hernandez and Antony Toruno expected to learn as servers at The Palace Coral Gables.
But, thanks to an initiative launched by director of Dining Services Oscar Guerra, the teens also are learning the importance of being actively involved in civics and the political process.
“Many of the servers were turning 18, and I wanted to educate them on their responsibilities as a new voter,” Guerra explained. “My goal wasn’t to tell them who to vote for, rather show them why their voice mattered.”
According to research, 1 in 10 eligible voters in 2020 will be part of Generation Z, those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and 24 million will be able to vote in the presidential elections.
In addition to helping 25 of his employees register to vote for the first time, Guerra wanted a fun way to get the staff excited about their civic duties. He and his assistant manager, Vanessa Matto, decided to host a debate, allowing the servers, who range in age from 17 to 21, to understand each political party’s platform on topics ranging from the pandemic to education and racial issues.
“I wanted to do something different, not just give them information,” he said. “Yes, it’s great to register to vote, but which party aligns with your personal views? How do our elected leaders feel about causes you hold near and dear? I wanted to create passion and motivate the young adults to make educated choices at the voting booth.”
Hernandez, a sophomore at the University of Central Florida who works at the senior living community during school breaks, was tasked with representing the Democratic Party. Miami Dade College senior, Alex Roth, 23, served as the Republican’s spokesperson.
“It meant the world to be able to have this opportunity,” Roth said. “I spent a great deal of time watching YouTube videos and reading articles to learn more about the party’s values and beliefs. I enjoyed the opportunity to shine and express myself to others so they could see the other side of the coin.”
Hernandez also valued being able to educate her peers and appreciated the unique experience.
“The Palace not only gave me a job but the chance to help my colleagues,” she said. “Many of them are just finishing high school and don’t have a lot of political knowledge.”
The debate also included “media representatives” as debate moderators: Keyla Romero (BBC News), Erica Macias (CNN), and Antony Toruno (Fox News). The 19-year-olds are all students at Miami Dade College.
Guerra said he is proud of the group’s efforts and feels the staff has become even more engaged.
“Before, voting wasn’t much of priority. Now there is passion and enthusiasm. Many servers even participated in early voting and felt a great sense of pride showing off their ‘I Voted’ sticker,” he said. “I hope this experience will have a lifelong impact and create a commitment to civic engagement.”
The Palace Coral Gables is an independent and assisted living community for active retirement living with luxurious amenities and services. To learn more about The Palace Coral Gables, call 305-445-
7444 or to view a list of The Palace Group’s senior living communities, visit www.ThePalace.org.