We all have the ability to make positive changes in our community

As Disabilities in the Workplace Awareness Month comes to a close, we celebrate Chartwells at the University of Miami for being awarded Florida’s 2019 Exceptional Employer Award in recognition of their dedication to hiring individuals with disabilities.
We all have the ability to make positive changes in our community
Photo by: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

From dining halls to event catering, Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services is the team of culinary experts on the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus. On the surface, their team delivers countless meals and dining experiences to the UM community but their true passion runs much deeper than food.

During the summer of 2018, when confronted with hiring challenges, UM Chartwells leadership decided to take a creative approach to expanding their team—one that would not only benefit their organization but the campus as a whole.

Under the leadership of Tim Pazdro, quality assurance manager for Chartwells, the UM-based team connected with Atlantis Academy’s L.I.F.E. program to explore the possibilities of creating a partnership that would support the hiring needs of the organization and diversify their workforce. Based in Miami, the L.I.F.E. program—Living Independently with Fundamental Experiences—prepares adults with diverse abilities with the necessary skills needed to live an independent life and enhance social and emotional growth, ultimately empowering those with disabilities to provide for themselves.

“We all have the ability to make positive changes in our community, no matter what business we are in,” stated Pazdro. “When we were presented with this challenge, I knew there was a way to create a situation that benefited not only us, but the greater Miami community.”

Today, the partnership has resulted in five new hires on the University’s Coral Gables campus and its impact has expanded beyond hiring and staffing. In addition to growing their staff, the University’s Chartwells team travelled to Tallahassee earlier this month to receive recognition as one of Florida’s 2019 Exceptional Employers, for hiring individuals with disabilities. 

“Our partnership with the Atlantis Academy has enhanced our operations by fostering a sense of diversity,” said Michael Ross, resident director for Chartwells at UM. While we are incredibly proud and humbled by the Exceptional Employers Award, we would be happy to continue the program solely because of the benefits it has provided to the L.I.F.E. program members as well as our own Chartwells staff. We only hope our guests who interact with these associates have come to appreciate the program as much as we do.”  

Stephanie Gerlach

Stephanie Gerlach, a floor attendant at the Hecht-Stanford Dining Hall, is a L.I.F.E. program graduate and one of Chartwells’ newest hires. Her role at the University is her first full-time job and she has already inspired her colleagues through her work.

“We have all learned lessons of joy, understanding, and hard work by including Atlantis Academy members in our operations,” added Ross.

This month, as the University community celebrates Disabilities in the Workplace Awareness Month, we also recognize our colleagues who work tirelessly to ensure that individuals of all abilities have the opportunity to enhance our culture through their contributions and gain a sense of belonging as we embrace of their differences.

For more information, visit  hr.miami.edu/disabilities.