Like many New Orleans hotels, the 1,600-room Hilton New Orleans Riverside offered refuge to thousands of people escaping the ravages of last summer's Hurricane Katrina. And, like many of these hotels, it also sustained significant damage. It reopened last Nov. 16 and is fully operational.

The hotel realized a win-win solution when it teamed with the local Dillard University to become a temporary campus for its more than 600 students and 100 faculty and staff. The Hilton set aside eight floors to house students and staff, many of whom lost their homes in the storm. It transformed meeting space into 25 classrooms, offices and two labs. The hotel has made a few adjustments by installing washers and dryers for the students' use. Some students have jobs at the hotel.

“It's been a fabulous experience and a great partnership,” says GM Fred Sawyers. “The students are hardworking and motivated, and I hope we can keep some of them here beyond summer.”

Sawyers also tells of a hotel employee, Kevyn Lewis, who was chosen to carry the Olympic torch in Torino, Italy last month. The security officer was recognized for working tirelessly during the storm to be sure all 4,000-plus hotel guests were safe.

For a riveting account of GM Fred Sawyers' experience operating the Hilton New Orleans Riverside during Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent evacuation of its guests and employees, go to LHonline.com and click on Voices From Katrina.

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