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MARRIOTT'S BRIDGES PROGRAM

The program develops paid internships with local employers for students with disabilities as they prepare to leave school, enhancing their opportunity to establish a rewarding career. Equally rewarding to the employers involved, they gain access to a source of employees that have been educated, trained and pre-screened to job criteria and needs. The role of Bridges does not end with finding a suitable match. Project directors and employer representative staff coordinates all aspects of the internships. They work closely with employers to identify potential positions, develop student matches, and act as a primary resource to employers and students throughout the internship. They provide on-site, follow up support to both the employer and the student during the internship period. Project directors will assist employers in conducting regular intern performance appraisals, including final evaluations at the end of the trial period. Bridges has placed more than 2,700 students in internships with over 900 employers. The Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities Bridges program operates in seven locations: Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Montgomery County, Md., Fairfax County, Va., and Washington, D.C. Richard Marriott, chairman of Host Marriott Corpor ation, serves as chairman of the Foundation’s board of trustees. During the Annual Bridges Awards Program highlighted by President Bush’s presence Chet Cooper spoke with Richard Marriott and executive director Mark Donovan.

C Cooper: How did President Bush become involved with the Bridges Program?

R Marriott: He has been very active in sponsoring volunteerism. He has also been a good friend of our family over the years, I sent him a note asking him if he would like to participate in the program tonight and he responded almost immediately saying that he would. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we have been supportive of him in the past and he has been supportive of us in our cause. We appreciate it very much. He is truly a great guy.

M Donovan: President Bush clearly stated that this is just a very nice fit. He sees the American Disabilities Act as one of the Landmarks of his administration. So this continues to be an area of great interest to him.

CC: When you are considering different properties to build or buy does accessibility and accommodations ever become intimidating by the possibility of added expenses?

RM: Sure. I think everyone runs into that at one time or another. What we have to be careful of is we are in the service business. So we are not only taking care of our employees, we are taking care of our customers as well. We have a lot of customers who have disabilities. So we have to design our properties to take care of the employees and the customers. If we can’t take care of both of them then we will lose customers. It would not be a good business decision for us. The business decision that counts is— how do you best take care of your customers and employees? Our philosophy has always been if you keep your employees happy, they will keep your customers happy. People with disabilities are no different. They have been some of our most effective employees, especially with the customers. We aim to keep them happy as well. I think it has been a positive financial decision for us. We had to spend a little extra money to keep our employees with disabilities happy but they in turn have gone the extra mile for us. They have done a great job for us.

CC: Have you had any problems with individual managers who have failed to see the value of what you’re doing here?

RM: Our control structure is fairly centralized, our managers have a lot of decisions they can make on their own but we have conditioned everyone that they are to treat all of their associates equally and give them all the proper opportunity to succeed in their jobs. This goes for people without disabilities as well as people with disabilities. We have been hiring people with disabilities, providing for them and training them for years and years. This is not just something that started eight years ago with the Bridges program. I think we are in tune with working with people with disabilities.

CC: Do you inform employers of financial benefits by hiring people with disabilities?

MD: As you are aware, there is the work opportunity tax credit and a variety of other tax credits for some employers who hire people with disabilities. Honestly, we do not use that as a major lever relative to convincing employers to hire young people through Bridges. We want employers to see a capable employee who is going to be productive and do a full days work for a full days pay. If the employer is interested in some of the subsidies, and some of the tax credits, we are able to share with them some of the details here, but it is not a major part of our marketing pitch. I think subsidies are fine. In some situations they make sense relative to getting a foot in the door to an employee who might not get that, if an employer hires someone just to get the subsidy, then it’s a pretty weak link in terms of creating a long-term relationship. The assumption in my mind is that when the subsidy ends, then there will be a good chance that the employee relationship will end. We want employers hiring employees because it makes good sense within their business needs. Not because they get a short term break from the government.

CC: Where do you get the funding for the Bridges program?

RM: We like to get funding from all sources. Tonight, at the recognition ceremony honoring businesses and individuals for achievement, we will get monies from corporations. We have gone to state agencies, federal agencies, school districts, all kinds of avenues. We receive grants from the U.S. Department of Education (Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services), and the U.S. Department of Labor (Employment and Training Administration).

The event Richard Marriott made reference to took place on June 3, 1997 in Washington, D.C. at the JW Marriott Hotel. Honored for their exceptional commitments to the advancement of young people with disabilities were:

Leadership Award winner Barbara Haight, Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Inc.; la Madeleine French Bakery and Cafe, cited as Small Business Employer of the Year; and National Institutes of Health, honored as Employer of the Year. Bridges student Steve Woodland was also recognized with a Youth Achieve ment Award for exceptional employment growth and success. Steve works at the Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) in the engineering department. Prior to the event a panel discussion took place with the award-winning participants in attendance.
Mark Donovan summarized some of the successes of the program:

We presently have placed 27 or 28 hundred kids in more than 900 different companies in the communities in which they work. Those communities include Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco; we have three programs in the Washington area. There are over a thousand youth placed in those three programs alone. With over 370 employed. Paramount to this program is what are the opportunities available to these youth once they complete the internship? 87% of the young people who complete an internship with Bridges receive an offer of ongoing employment. That more than anything else says we are meeting the objectives that we set out to meet.

Bridges goes into three tiers:education, separation, and support. Key to the success of the program is preparing the youth for the workplace. We find that they need some orientation to train well to understand what it means to be successful in the workplace. We want to equally prepare the workplace. There are whole ranges of hurdles in the workplace that are relative to stereotypical thinking and this is regarding disabilities and people with disabilities. We work in the workplace with the coworkers and the supervisors in that regard and we work from that part of the skills that individuals with disabilities, and this is a critical element to the needs of the employers and that is really in our minds what the whole process is about. It is bringing together those skills and those capabilities with what the employer needs to have an employment situation that works for all. This kind of brings to mind the question of "so what?" Nice program, sounds good, pleasant stories. Let me suggest just a little bit of context for you. We are facing a time when almost a quarter of a million young people with disabilities are exiting special education. Those young people are exiting with severely diminished employment prospects as compared to the non-disabled fields. Over 50% of them, one year later, remain unemployed since their date of exit. Our survey in Virginia indicates that parents of individuals with mental retardation saw only 5% of their children were in any type of full employment. They exit high School with little work experience; they exit without the confidence and competence that comes with part time work experience while you are a high school student that will help you down the path of productive employment and over the ongoing barriers in the community. What our hope is that Bridges will help to move us forward relative to some of those issues. We believe that some of the successes we have achieved have been passed forward. It is great to get a press packet that says these are some of our successes, but how does it really plug into reality? And is it really as successful as on paper? Are people with disabilities really becoming employees with capabilities? Because that is what we say we are all about. We say that Bridges exists to turn people with disabilities into employees with capabilities. Is this just a smoke screen? What are the fears and trepidation that employers have relative to bringing people with disabilities into the workplace? Are the youth that work with Bridges really on a path to better and more fulfilling employment than on the road? Have we really achieved our goal in that regard? I am going to leave those questions out on the table. I would like to introduce Bill Freeman, President and CEO of Bell Atlantic, Washington. He is here to represent a company, which I think epitomizes what Bridges is all about. And what the Marriott Foundation for people with disabilities is all about on a philosophical level. Bell Atlantic, Washington, won the chairman’s Award last year at the event corresponding to the one we are having this evening. For their exemplary effort in mentoring Bridges students. Additionally they have an extensive involvement in an internal organization called Dial (Disabilities and Awareness Leaders) that really moves those philosophies forward. With us today is Bob Brantly, the Vice President of customers and community relations, he has been involved with Bridges since 1992, they have hired over twenty six Bridges students, five of those students continue to be employed there. They have led the way for us in the community. Also with us is Sam Strickland, Vice President of Booz, Allen and Hamilton. They are relatively new to Bridges as an employer. They have hired one Bridges employee who is now in his second year of employment. A student with Downs Syndrome who works in the mail distribution center. They have been very active in perpetuating the message and getting it started within their workplace. With them also is Barbara Haight. Barbara is winning our Leadership Award for the works she has done. Finally, Carlos Pennix, who is a Bridges success story Carlos started on with PEPCO on April 5, 1992 as he graduated from Roosevelt High School. He was one of the 87% of the students in ongoing employment and is considered a critical member of the family. Carlos is here to provide a students perspective. Finally, we have Kevin Bostick in the audience. He is with PEPCO as well. I think what we have is an excellent mix of experience and expertise here, what I would like to do is finish my remarks and at this time I would like to open the floor to questions from the audience:

Question from the floor:
Mr. Freeman could you explain to other companies to become involved any trepidation you may have had initially and how they were overcome?

B. Freedman: We have an advantage within our organization in that we have an employee resource group that works inside the company to help us better understand the types of things that an individual may need to perform his job. The most important is the mentoring side, how an organization can take a Marriott Bridges student into their program and show them what it like to work in a major corporation. I think this gives us an advantage and I would recommend that other organizations try to develop a group inside that can act as the bridge to the Marriott Bridges program. This will help them interface inside the corporation with the language we understand and the processes and procedures we understand. To make certain we provide the opportunity the individuals need. People with disabilities are capable of holding all kind of jobs from information services to programming to graphics work to project planning work. They are the ones who provide the mentoring to the young Bridges students. For example we had one of our employees, who is blind, who was to have a meeting with two deaf Bridges students who were coming in to view a day in the installation area. The interpreter was a little late so rather than be stymied they showed their creativity by typing out messages on the computer and tapping out one tap for yes and two taps for no, until the interpreter got there.

MD: I think if I could jump in on this and comment I think that what this illustrates is that accommodation, which is often viewed as a disability issue, is really an employment issue. The kind of creativity that is used here may be the same as the creativity used in a workforce without people with disabilities. PEPCO Representative: We have found at PEPCO that a disability has never been an indicator of whether or not you can do the job. We have not found disabilities to create more than a minor accommodation.

 

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