A Bridge From School To Work

By Christopher Twarowski

Reggie Randolph was a shy 17-year-old when he enrolled in the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities' Bridges school-to-work program two years ago. The D.C. native was a student at Woodson High School. He has a learning disability that made it difficult for him to make eye contact with others, much less carry on a conversation, particularly in new situations. Instead of interaction, Reggie would tend to just withdraw.

Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities Chairman Richard E. Marriott; Reginald "Reggie" Randolph, 2008 Young Achievement Award winner; and Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews." (Courtesy Marriott Foundation)

But earlier this month Reggie, now 19, stood proudly on a stage behind a podium before about 1,300 supporters at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. He exuded confidence. He spoke with pride.

"I am honored to be a recipient of the Youth Achievement Award from the Marriott Foundation and the Bridges school-to-work program," Reggie said, thanking the foundation, his family and new coworkers "for believing in me."

Reggie was the 10,000th young adult who found job placement through the Bridges program.

Kathleen Matthews, executive vice president of Marriott International, Inc., keynoted the event. Richard E. Marriott, chairman of the foundation, delivered heartfelt remarks. Chris Matthews, Kathleen's husband and host of MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews," led a discussion titled "Tales from the Campaign Trail" with Katty Kay of BBC World News America and Eugene H. Robinson from this paper, The Washington Post.

"It's really terrific, and every year you see amazing students get up in front of a room like this, public speaking, talking about what they're doing," said Kathleen Matthews. "That's the real joy of it. And then seeing these employers that really sort of step up to the plate."

The Bridges program was founded in 1989 by the family of J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott. Its goal has been to enhance the employment opportunities for young people with disabilities. Bridges representatives go into schools. They find young people with disabilities, most of whom also face economic challenges. The program matches them with prospective employers and helps place them in jobs. Bridges has nine locations throughout the country -- Washington; Montgomery County; Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Oakland, Dallas, Chicago and Philadelphia -- and has worked closely with more than 3,200 employers nationwide. It serves about 1,100 youth annually, according to the foundation. More than 85 percent of its participating youth are ethnic minorities.

Since Bridges' inception, the program has found job placement for more than 10,000 disabled young people at around 3,200 businesses. The program has placed more than 2,000 of these youth locally, through more than 900 employers.

Through Bridges, Reggie was hired by federal contractor IMC/Kevric, and worked as a mail clerk at the Administration for Children and Families. Over time, he assumed more and more responsibilities. He began training other Bridges young people, and cross-training for advancement opportunities. His employer recognized Reggie's work, and recently offered him a $25,000-a-year salaried position as a reference center clerk. The job has health benefits, tuition reimbursement -- and requires independent management skills.

Reggie also earned a scholarship and has enrolled at Strayer University, where he'll pursue a degree in computer science.

Reggie's family, who sat at a table not far from the stage that night, were ecstatic.

"Oh I am so proud of my son," said Phyllis Randolph, Reggie's mother. "I always knew it in my heart that he could do it."

For those at Bridges, the event was extra-special.

"From the beginning, I had faith in Reggie," added Bridges employer representative Carolyn Thomas. Thomas worked closely with Reggie since he began the program and was responsible for placing him at his current job. "I just knew that this young man was going to make it."

By Dan Beyers  |  June 26, 2008; 2:00 PM ET  | Category:  Marriott International Corp.
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