, who has helped dozens of teens learn occupational skills at LongHorn Steakhouse
during the last 15 years, has learned something important, too — that young people facing special challenges can become valuable team members.
For the last 21 years, the managing partner in Concord, NC
, has trained about 50 teens through his partnership with the Cabarrus County Schools’ Occupational Course of Study program. It helps students with learning disabilities who need a modified curriculum that focuses on post-school employment and independent living.
“It gives these kids a leg up,” Jack said. “The foodservice industry is available to everyone. If they learn a skill in this business, they can go anywhere, and if they’re good at it, they can do anything they want to do.”
Jack has hired 15 of the students after they graduated from high school through the program. Five of them still work at the restaurant, including Ulyeusa Steele, known as Miss Kitty, a dishwasher for 15 years who has autism. “She has fun here,” he said. The other team members are:
- Joanna Nolasco, a host and prep cook for three years
- Terra King, a busser for a year
- Troy Jones, a silverware roller for two years
- Jacob Reels, a busser for four years
As a busser, Jacob also handles sweeping the floors. “I bet we have the cleanest dining room floors of any LongHorn Steakhouse restaurant in America,” Jack said.
Host Sue Golde plays a key role in training the young people, helping them become acclimated and introducing them to everyone. Their primary jobs are bussing and rolling silverware, she said, but as their social skills improve, some of them seat guests.
“It’s gratifying when they decide they want to work for us after their training,” said Sue, who has formed a strong bond with Terra. “Every time I see her, I give her a hug and I want to cry because I’m so proud of her.”
The occupational program is grateful to Jack. “He is a huge supporter of our students and program,” said Employability Specialist Jim Hendricks. “There’s no better opportunity for students to learn job skills than at a job site where they can get coaching and feedback. Sometimes people associate disabilities with what disabled people can’t do, but Jack focuses on what the students can do.”
“I get a thrill seeing them thrive,” Jack said, “and so does everyone here at the restaurant. I don’t do it by myself. Everyone here has a hand in their development.”