Frisco ISD Project SEARCH interns are benefitting from expanded student opportunities thanks to a partnership with Embassy Suites by Hilton Dallas Frisco Hotel and Convention Center, Texas Workforce Solutions and LifePath Systems.
Each year, about a dozen Frisco ISD students aged 18 and up with intellectual and developmental disabilities are selected to participate in Project SEARCH. Project SEARCH is a program that combines instruction, career exploration and hands-on training at a community work site.
During the week, interns can be spotted working hard throughout the building. They work in several departments including the complimentary breakfast, banquet, laundry, engineering and housekeeping.
Starting this year, interns are also being trained as baristas at Embassy Suites. Caffeina’s Marketplace Café is now staffed by Project SEARCH interns Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Natalia Stefkovich is a 20-year-old intern who graduated from Reedy High School and has taken on the challenge of serving coffee at Caffeina’s Café.
“When I started, I didn’t know how to make coffee, but now I can run the register, make coffee and help people have a good start to their day,” Stefkovich said. “I am feeling more comfortable working at Caffeina's with practice and I like talking to people every day.”
Stefkovich takes her internship seriously. After her morning huddle session with the Project SEARCH team, she goes through her routine of setting up the cash register, wiping down tables, checking the merchandise, gathering needed supplies and starting the coffee. She proudly explains that her binder is color-coded and helps her know how to make each coffee and is a resource to go back to.
“Everyone has been so nice and understanding that I am here learning how to do this job,” Stefkovich said. “My mom and dad are proud of me and I am happy to be making new friends at Embassy Suites.”
Stefkovich and all Project SEARCH interns work with an on-site team that includes a special education site instructor, a paraprofessional and a rehabilitation service representative. They work together with the Embassy Suites managers and staff to create an employment goal and support the intern during this important transition from school to work.
“The Project SEARCH program is a total immersion in the workplace with the goal of the interns being able to enter competitive employment in a matter of months,” said Michael Jones, site instructor and job coach. “Each day, interns are applying their soft skills and vocational skills so that when they exit the program, they can not only get a job but keep the job.”
From getting to their internship on time with their own transportation to interacting with guests and coworkers, interns are learning the skills they need for independence and competitive employment.
“The interns are working real jobs that need to be done here and not just carved out or created positions to provide them pseudo work experiences,” Jones said. “That said, we are proud of our newest barista working the Caffeina’s counter thanks to this incredible partnership with Embassy Suites.
“We hope to get the public in here to give her additional opportunities to practice her skills and help build the confidence in herself as well as her supervisors.”
Stefkovich confirms this sentiment with a smile and nod.
“I am thankful that everyone has been so nice while I’ve been training and I can’t wait to meet more people,” Stefkovich said.
Visit Caffeina’s Marketplace Café
Where: 7600 John Q Hammons Dr. on the first floor of Embassy Suites
When: Weekdays 9 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. according to the District calendar