DENVER - When Sarah Belcher works in the kitchen of the Hyatt Regency Denver, she is learning how prepare food. But, the Hands On @Hyatt program is designed to help prepare her for life.
"I like getting my hands on stuff," Belcher said.
Belcher has a form of autism. She is taking part in the Summer Works Academy put together by Hands On @Hyatt, the Arapahoe/Douglas Workforce Center, and the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association.
"We're trying to target transitional youth who are coming from high school and they are trying to get into a career, but maybe they're not college bound," John Ficca, Hands On @Hyatt program director, said.
Ficca says the program offers skills and direction to teenage students.
"Many young people with disabilities, they've struggled in school for 12 years. So, for two-thirds of their young life, they feel behind," Ficca said. "Their confidence is lower and they're not sure what they're going to do. It's the same with their parents, they're not sure if they're going to be independent."
Over a four week period, students like Belcher learn skills in the classroom before spending two weeks at the Hyatt Hotels around Denver to learn the specifics of working in a hotel or restaurant.
"We're putting these young people in the kitchen or at the front desk or at the bell stand," Ficca said. "They're being exposed to real life."
Greg Farson graduated from the program three years ago. The man with Asperger Syndrome still works at the Hyatt Regency Denver.
"Giving up is just plain easy," Farson said.
Ficca says Farson tries to make students like Belcher feel comfortable.
"He walks up to every new student and says, Hey, my name is Greg and I went through this training program three years ago. I was just like you," Ficca said. "They look at him and they think if he can do it, so can I."
Farson says he likes to be a mentor.
"That's what I should do is to help out the people who need the help, too," Farson said.
Thursday, Belcher will graduate from the program along with seven other students. They will be ready for a job in food preparation.
"Get a certificate. That's a good thing," Belcher said.
Ficca says the program not gives students like Belcher credentials, it gives them hope.
"It gives them hope just because I can't go to college doesn't mean I can't have a career," Ficca said.