Meet Cameron Corbett, a hospitality-industry veteran who was recently hired by Four Seasons Total Landscaping through a new professional development program.
• Always outgoing: “As a kid I was like I am now, pretty outspoken. I was on Kids Say the Darndest Things with Art Linkletter when I was in preschool.”
• Four star: “I remember telling my mom I got a job with Four Seasons Total Landscaping. She was like ‘Wait a minute?’ and I said ‘Yes, that one.’ She goes: ‘Oh my God you would!’ My friends and family who are not from Philly are very aware of what this is.”
As a kid in Dayton, Ohio, Cameron Corbett grew up going to house bars with his grandfather. His “Pop Pop” would hand him a roll of quarters for the jukebox and Corbett would sing and dance for the patrons, whose tips paid for this grandfather’s drinks.
“I was raised, more or less, in speakeasies,” Corbett said. “I learned to be a wingman at a very early age.”
For much of his adult life, Corbett continued in the hospitality industry, working as a bartender, waiter, and manager at restaurants and hotels from Panama to Philly. A charming conversationalist and self-proclaimed “interview assassin,” Corbett found hospitality jobs were easy to get.
But the work was starting to get to him.
“I was at the point where I was extremely burned out and needed a change, but I didn’t quite know how to do that,” Corbett, 40, of West Philly, said. “When the pandemic hit and all the restaurants closed, I had a come-to-Jesus moment. This was what I’d subconsciously been praying for — a break from hospitality.”
He dove into sourdough starters and soap-making but when Corbett, a longtime gardener who has pineapple plants and banana trees at his house, saw a Facebook post from Councilmember Jamie Gauthier about a new job-training program for positions with Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Northeast Philly, he knew it was the right fit.
“I was definitely aware of the fumble from 45,” he said. “That news conference was bonkers. They couldn’t even get the right Four Seasons.”
But Corbett did.
After a three-week collaborative training program by University City District’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative and Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp’s Navy Yard Workforce Development Initiatives, Corbett was hired by Four Seasons in March as a full-time laborer with benefits.
“I’m happier now. Even when it’s freezing and raining and my feet are soaking wet and I smell like death, it’s better,” he said. “With the work I’m doing now, I’m giving life back to something and it has meaning to it.”
Corbett came to Philly seven years ago when his husband, who is now a therapist, was accepted into graduate school at Drexel University. Before Philly, Corbett lived in Dayton, Indianapolis, Panama, and Los Angeles, where he pursued a career as a dancer and got gigs with Nivea, Jagged Edge, and Sean Paul. Corbett, who specializes in hip-hop and reggaetón, said he learned to dance “in the streets” and by recording Janet Jackson videos as a kid.
“Even now, at any time someone could say ‘Janet Jackson’s If or Rhythm Nation’ and I can knock the dance out,” he said.
During his time in Philly, Corbett worked everywhere from Independence Beer Garden in Center City to Tavern on Camac in the Gayborhood. He didn’t think he’d have a chance when he applied for the landscaping training program in January because he had no landscaping experience. But out of 116 applicants, he was one of 13 chosen, one of nine hired, and one of six who remain employed with Four Seasons, according to Chris Richman, director of marketing and communications for the University City District.
The collaborative training program, which is an expansion of the West Philly Skills Initiative that began in 2011, works with employers in need to train West and South Philly residents for full-time careers. Four Seasons was chosen as the first employer for the new collaboration because of their longtime contract with the Navy Yard (other participating employers include SEPTA and the University of Pennsylvania). The University City District and PIDC signed the contract with Four Seasons just days before the now-infamous news conference.
“We wondered how their moment in the spotlight would impact our recruitment and programming plans,” Richman said. “In the end, Four Seasons handled the whole situation so well and with such a good sense of humor that we ultimately decided there was no reason to worry.”
Training ran for three weeks, during which time participants received $150 stipend per week. Corbett said he not only received OSHA and equipment training, but the group also did improv work and team-building exercises.
“At first I was a little judgy and thought ‘This was so remedial for me,’ because I’d been in management,” Corbett said. “But in the end I was so happy I went through everything because with the pandemic, my skills were not as tight as I thought they were.”
Four Seasons director of sales Sean Middleton said the program not only helps potential employees, but employers, too.
“The people like Cameron who’ve gone through this program have more training than anyone else we’ve hired before,” he said.
On a recent day at the Navy Yard as Corbett hauled wheelbarrows full of mulch, his amethyst stud earrings glistening in the sun, he said his new career has improved his sleep, his motivation, and his mental health.
“At the end of the day when I left a restaurant, even if it was great, the best satisfaction was leaving or going for that after-work drink,” he said ”Now, it’s almost instant gratification. Once we put an hour of work in, everything looks gorgeous and people are walking by and saying ‘Thank you for cleaning up our neighborhood.’“
The only downside?
“My 40-year-old body is still getting used to waking up at 4:30 a.m. every day,” he said.
Want more We the People?
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• South Philly designer Jacqueline City applied to New York Fashion Week on a whim and got in. Now, she’s headed to Paris.
• Check out the full We the People archive here.