As a teenager working in a local florist shop, Debbie Mele’s career seemed certain, but Gateway set her on a new path when she encountered a midlife “detour.” After high school, Debbie entered the Atlanta School of Floral Design. That led to a successful career, including 14 years at Myers Flower Shop and certification as an FTD Master Floral Designer. Unfortunately, her craft’s repetitive motion led to surgery and a career change at 39 – leaving her to wonder, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
Debbie enjoyed travel and decided on hospitality management. She asked the University of New Haven (UNH) which Gateway courses were transferable to its Hospitality and Tourism degree. She then enrolled at GCC, ultimately receiving associate degrees in Food and Beverage Management and Hotel and Motel Management. “Gateway gave me a new direction in life and opened a whole new world,” she recalls. Debbie describes Gateway as a “small community experience.” While there, she and fellow students started the Hospitality Club. “One year, we made edible ornaments for the White House Christmas tree. We were invited to Washington, toured the White House, and received presidential ornaments.”
“Gateway gave me a new direction in life and opened a whole new world.”Debbie Mele
Debbie later earned her bachelor’s degree at UNH. After working at several local hotels and inns, she joined the newly opened Omni New Haven Hotel, ultimately becoming Senior Sales Manager. In 2013, she was among three distinguished alumni inducted into the GCC Foundation’s Hall of Fame.
Debbie and husband Al always wanted to be “snowbirds,” so in 2015, Debbie, then 60, transferred to the Omni Resort, ChampionsGate, Fla., and the couple relocated there. She worked in sales – until COVID-19 decimated the hospitality industry. It’s uncertain when that sector will recover, so she and Al plan to return to Connecticut next spring, where they’ll live in their former East Haven home, currently a rental. She wants to continue working and is applying to area hotels. She might also explore teaching hospitality classes part time, as she once did at Gateway!