People with disabilities get hands-on education at Hyatt Regency in Estero

A hands-on learning experience is giving a valuable lesson to people in Southwest Florida with disabilities.

Men and women with disabilities are learning skills like cooking, serving and even engineering, so they can get hired.

“They called me in and gave me the job, and I cried, you know, cause it was exciting,” Charlie Barker said. “And I enjoy working here.”

Barker said it gives him and fellow students at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point resort and Spa in Estero a sense of purpose.

“I’m starting my teenage life once again,” Barker said.

Cooking is Barker’s passion, and it’s through the program he is learning skills to help him reach his goal.

“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life is cook,” Barker said.

Barker is taking part in a hands-on education program made possible because of the partnership of Hands On Educational Services, Hyatt Hotels and Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The program goal and mission is to help students with various disabilities gain real-life experiences in the hospitality industry.

Ian Greer is learning the art of serving through the program.

“I’ve always been interested in being around people,” Greer said.

Students put their hands to work to test them for two intense weeks.

“I often say the best way to learn how to swim is get in the pool,” said John Ficca, program director at Hands On Education Services. “And there’s no better pool for food and beverage and hospitality than Hyatt.”

And, Friday, dreams were realized. Not only did students graduate, the hotel also offered some of them jobs.

“The experiences that they gain and the opportunity to have employment on their resume gives them another chance and a shot at a long-term career,” General Manager Brian Kramer said.

Since the program has started, its has expanded to 35 Hyatt hotels.

“It’s just like a family,” Barker said.


Reporter:Brea Hollingsworth
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