Leesburg, VA–Last year, The National Conference Center (The National) became the first hospitality organization in Virginia to partner with a public school system and Didlake to host Project Search, a national high school transition program for students with intellectual delays. The National just celebrated its first student graduation from the Project Search program, and announced in partnership with Loudon Country Public School System that they will continue the program into the 2017-2018 academic school year.
Project Search is a total workplace immersion program combining classroom instruction, career exploration, and relevant job-skills training through strategically designed internships. It includes long-term job coaching and continuous feedback from teachers and employers. The nine interns placed at The National learned time management, social interaction, and a variety of stockroom, culinary, and housekeeping skills.
“This is an excellent program to help young adults transition from home and school to being in the real world,” says Emily Meyers, Didlake employment specialist. Project Search, which is funded by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, began in Virginia during the 2009-2010 academic school year. Since then, more than 700 students across the Commonwealth have gained valuable work experience and skills through their internships.
“Our entire team at The National Conference Center and West Belmont Place was delighted to be involved with Project Search,” says Geoff Lawson, vice president and general manager at The National. “We placed our nine interns in a variety of departments, including culinary, engineering, housekeeping, audio visual, grounds, and event services.”
The program also gave staff at The National an opportunity to exercise compassion and mentoring skills to young future hospitality professionals. The interns shared The National’s Pillar of Excellence service credo by adopting “the customer is our first priority.” The National’s team took time to help the interns understand and grasp the market and the conference center’s customers as they look to become part of the next generation of meeting support professionals.
The National Conference Center employs over 200 people and also works with the local Riverside High School in Loudoun County, training youth in all hospitality functions. Three of the nine Project Search participants have been offered jobs at The National in the front of the house, culinary and events departments.
Graduation for the nine interns, ages 18 to 22, took place in June at The National. Family, teachers, friends, and local school administrators joined in the celebration.