Wednesday, December 30, 2015
A teaching hotel for people with disability opens, thanks to one dad's dream
As parents of kids with special needs, we want to give our children every opportunity and empower them in every which way. When the resources are lacking, we may dream of making them happen— only a bazillion other responsibilities and to-dos get in the way. I've definitely been there, not done that.
This is the story of a father who made his dream a reality; thanks to him, the country's first teaching hotel for people with disabilities just opened. The Marriott Courtyard Muncie at Horizon Convention Center in Muncie, Indiana, will operate as a regular hotel while giving staffers the opportunity to learn the hospitality trade.
Jeffrey Huffman, a businessman who runs a healthcare and disability consulting firm, is dad to Nash, a 14-year-old high school freshman. Nash has Down syndrome and as he got older Jeff and his wife, Jan, were concerned that, as Jeff puts it, "Success after high school was not being addressed well in Indiana." The couple became active in The Arc of Indiana; its Blueprint for Change aims to build career pathways for people with disability, among other goals.
"That process got me thinking about how we could pull this all together in our hometown of Muncie, where Jan and I grew up," Jeff recalls. "There was an abandoned hotel in downtown, and with cigar and bourbon in hand I went to work on sketching out my thoughts on a real live business that employed and trained individuals with disabilities for real jobs in restaurants and hospitality."
He brought his paper napkin idea to The Arc because, he says, "I knew we could not pull it off on our own. At first they thought I was crazy to tackle such a big idea...but then it stuck. The old hotel ended up being sold but we had sold the city and the state of Indiana on the idea and with land and a $5 million dollar grant from the state, we were off to the races."
At least 20 percent of the staff of the Courtyard Muncie will have developmental and other types of disabilities; they'll work at the front desk, in housekeeping and in the hotel's eateries, reports Disability Scoop. The hotel also features a training institute for teaching vocational skills in hospitality, food service and healthcare, which The Arc hopes hotels around the country will replicate.
"It's really cool to be a part of this," Nash told a reporter on the hotel's opening day, when he helped cut the ribbon at the ceremony. "I want to work here."
"Jan and I feel we have the obligation to stand on the shoulders of the parents who came before us and gave us what we have," says Jeff. "As a disability movement, we must move forward on innovation to increase education that leads to employment options and independence—not just more services.
"The hotel is just one dream. We need more ideas and dreams, and I hope this serves to show that anyone with a dream big enough to make positive change can do it with the right partners."
Images: Jeff Huffman/Facebook