Frontline workers recognized for going above and beyond in 2020

On the Border Holland Catering Captain Carolyn McNeil is a problem solver by nature. And 2020 gave her plenty of opportunities.

“Every day in the restaurant is different. You need to be able to shift gears quickly,” she says. “If I’m going to put the time and effort into doing something, I am going to do it well.”

She was one of eight West Michigan employees honored with the 2020 West Michigan Works! Beverly A. Drake Essential Service Award during The Economic Club of Grand Rapids’ virtual April meeting. Each honoree was presented with a $100 Meijer gift card. 

“The Essential Service Awards recognize frontline workers who go above and beyond their daily responsibilities and display integrity, passion, and commitment,” a news release from West Michigan Works! says.

The 2020 Essential Service Award honorees are:
  • Kevin Allmon, building maintenance and housekeeping, Integrated Packaging Machinery
  • Carol Lyman, senior administrative assistant, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital
  • Carolyn McNeil, catering captain and marketing manager, On The Border Holland
  • Angela Reyna Perez, program assistant, Affinity Mentoring
  • Shaun Price, electrical construction, Buist Electric
  • Jesseca Schrader, registered nurse, Metro Health-University of Michigan Health and HealthBar
  • Mike Smith, sales professional, Bekins
  • Michelle Tokarczyk, front desk receptionist clerk, Muskegon County


“When you are passionate about something you love, it isn’t going above and beyond. It is just doing what you are called to do,” says Schrader, a registered nurse and honoree in a news release.

When she’s not working at Metro Health-University of Michigan Health, Schrader serves as a school nurse at Kenowa Hill Middle School through HealthBar.

“There was a lot of anxiety for kids concerned about what it was going to be like at school and if they were going to be safe,” says Schrader. “Helping them understand why we had the measures in place that we did really helped to ease the anxiety. More than anything, we were a face of security.”
On the Border Catering Captain Carolyn McNeil was one of eight West Michigan employees honored with the 2020 West Michigan Works! Beverly A. Drake Essential Service Award.
Difficult year

2020 was a difficult year for many businesses, especially the hospitality industry. For McNeil at On The Border, last year was particularly exhausting due to the restaurant operating with fewer staff members.

“We were running minimal staff, as most places were, which didn’t change what we had to do; it just changed the number of people we had to do it,” McNeil said. “I take pride in the work that I do. I want to know that I’m doing the best that I can. If at the end of the day I know that I gave 100%, then I’ve done my job.”

One of the latest challenges was the catered event for 945 people … at three sites … in three shifts … in one day.

It was the largest catering job Holland’s On the Border restaurant had ever handled, and McNeil, the catering captain, was in charge of the logistics of three shifts of people serving food to nearly 1,000 others.

To be eligible for an Essential Service Award individuals must have at least two years of employment with their current company; hold a non-managerial position; and exhibit pride in their job with a positive attitude, strong work ethic, and effective time management. 

The West Michigan Works! Development Board chooses winners from within the service area of Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon and Ottawa counties.
On the Border Catering Captain Carolyn McNeil (right) was one of eight West Michigan employees honored with the 2020 West Michigan Works! Beverly A. Drake Essential Service Award.
Integral to success

While Rachel Harwood, general manager of the Holland On the Border location, describes McNeil as a “true introvert” who would prefer the spotlight not be shined on her, she also says McNeil is integral to the restaurant’s success and deserves all the recognition.

“She’s pretty much my right-hand person. ...She comes in and does what needs to be done,” Harwood says. “It doesn’t matter if the bathrooms need to be cleaned. It doesn’t matter if she is cooking, if she is doing dishes.”

Not many of her co-workers know it, she says, but McNeil was a research scientist for 15 years before she left to raise her children. The part-time restaurant work allows her flexible hours now that her children are in school.

McNeil, 46, takes pride in every job she does.

Like many in the restaurant industry — especially catering, McNeil’s usual job changed drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic, but making sure every customer was happy remained important to her, Harwood says.

“She carried us through the year,” she says.


Muskegon County resident finds successful path thanks to West Michigan Works! services, support


Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.