Cheri BoublisCheri Boublis Director of Hospitality Services Palos Community Hospital in Palos Heights, Ill. We consider ourselves a hospital that serves the community, and participating in the community is a big part of our success.

Engaging with TEP

Our transitional employment program (TEP) is one aspect of what we do to engage people with special needs in our community. It's a coordinated effort with two area high schools where the students spend part of their day here at the hospital; the program runs on the regular school schedule.

While the students can work in a variety of areas in the hospital, the greatest number reside in foodservice. They come for two to three hours a day — one group in the morning and another in the afternoon. We identify an area that is a good fit for each student based on their individual skill set.

The first week is a little awkward for everyone — a bit like starting a new job. Truthfully, the first week of a new job is awkward for all of us. No one comes into any of these jobs knowing all of it from day one.

The program goal is to teach work skills that can ultimately lead to employment in the community. From working in room service to assisting our production staff or even cleaning tables, we find a job that's a match.

The school district provides coaches when needed to help break down jobs into specific tasks. Anyone with initial doubts about working with someone with a disability quickly learns the amazing relationships and teamwork that this program fosters are life changing for everyone. We've celebrated birthdays, proms and graduations with participants that we consider part of our team.

Adding On

I've worked in a lot of hospitals, and I've never seen a program this well developed and supported. Our volunteer department now includes families that volunteer with a special-needs child.

We now also participate in Choice, a program designed by Park Lawn, a local nonprofit that offers programs for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We appreciate all the help and friendships this has inspired.

We wind down our TEP program with an official graduation ceremony, and each student gives a little speech about what they got out of the program and what they hope their future will be. We keep in touch with many of them. We want the relationship to continue.

A lot of these individuals ultimately work in the food industry — an employer of choice for them, including our hospital. It all goes full circle in a wonderful way.