A Giving Matters blog post earlier this month by Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) and Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities Board Member, King Jordan, describes the staff who support students with disabilities on college campuses as the Secret Sauce that can make a difference in the lives of young people making the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. I couldn’t agree more about the essential role staff play in a young adult’s success. With more than two decades of serving over 21,000 young people, the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities (MFPD) and its Bridges from School to Work (Bridges) program has also perfected the secret sauce: committed, compassionate, quality staff – we call them employer representatives – who match young people with real jobs in businesses that offer advancement opportunities. Built upon Marriott’s long standing culture that puts people first, MFPD-Bridges puts ability first, championing what young adults can do in the competitive workplace. And what’s equally remarkable and tremendously rewarding for staff with the secret sauce, and all of us, is witnessing the outcome: the transformative power of job in a young person’s life.
When we say that the Bridges program transforms lives, we mean it, but we know that transformation doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a gradual process. After all, the youth in this program are still in their formative years—with some kids eager to rush into the world of work, while others are a bit reluctant to leave behind the familiarity of their communities and high schools. Most, however, share one thing in common; young adults come to us with a great deal of uncertainty and trepidation, lacking self-assurance, ambivalent or even
skeptical because other programs made promises that never materialized.
During the months of October and November, Bridges programs across the country hold celebratory events timed to coincide with National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Hosted by our Board Chair, Richard Marriott, these celebrations recognize youth with disabilities and the employers who hire them. This year’s NDEAM theme, Inclusion Works, seems to carry more poignancy as we’ve gathered in Bridges cities to celebrate not just a first job, but a second, and in some cases, a third job through Bridges. This is because Bridges works with these young adults for one year, sometimes longer, helping them climb the first few steps of a career ladder. We know these steps will set them on a path to independence and lifelong employment.
Take for example a young lady named Jamethia in Dallas, whose first Bridges job was as a steward at a Fairmont Hotel where she worked for a year until the commute to work became unmanageable. Her second Bridges job, also a steward, was much closer to home at the Dallas W Hotel. All along, Jamethia knew that she wanted stewarding to lead her on a culinary career path. So with that goal in sight, she continued to work, juggling her W Hotel job with culinary school, a plan that is paying off. Jamethia has been employed continuously for more than two years and is now on her third job, working for the last nine months in the pastry kitchen at the 1000-room Dallas Omni Hotel. As she has progressed through each job, Jamethia needed less support and guidance. For her Omni job, she completed the application on her own while asking her Bridges mentor a few questions over the phone.
Jamethia’s is a life transformed through the power of a job, affecting not only this ambitious young lady, but her manager, other associates at the Omni, and countless others who witness the positive change.
And as National Disability Employment Awareness Month draws to a close, it is worth reminding ourselves of the
nearly 400,000 young adults with disabilities exiting special education every year in the U.S. whose abilities can and must be realized through post-secondary education, training and the power of a job. Let’s redouble our efforts throughout the year to promote and support efforts to integrate young adults with disabilities in the competitive workplace.
Inclusion works. It works for the young adult. It works for the employer. It works for us all.