Courtyard Property Opens Hotel School for People With Disabilities

MUNCIE, IN—The new Courtyard by Marriott Muncie at Horizon Convention Center, located in Downtown Muncie, is attempting to create new staffing opportunities for lodging properties in the state of Indiana and provide people with disabilities with post-secondary educational opportunities in hospitality.

The Arc of Indiana, which advocates for people with disabilities, developed educational training for these individuals in the hospitality, F&B and healthcare industries, which began Jan. 11. The Erskine Green Training Institute is Indiana’s first statewide hospitality training center for individuals with disabilities, according to The Arc of Indiana, which also owns the hotel.

“The school is open to those from all over the state who want to learn about the hospitality industry,” said Jill Vaught, executive director of The Arc of Indiana Foundation. “The training program was started after we were approached by a father who was frustrated by the lack of opportunities for his son, who has a disability.”

The project was partially funded by the state of Indiana, which has committed up to $5 million. People with disabilities will be trained in various capacities, from the front desk and housekeeping to the restaurant and management. The program will run nine to 13 weeks, four times per year. The institute will also provide an internship program at the hotel and weekly Spanish classes offered by Ball State University.

“We want to provide them with the skills necessary for them to thrive in the industry. The internship program would allow them to apply everything they have learned and ensure that they have mastered their skills,” said Vaught. “Partnering with a respected hotel brand like Courtyard by Marriott ensures that [our students]are going to get the best of the best in terms of experience in the field.”

The 150-room property employs individuals with disabilities throughout the hotel and its restaurants in various roles. About 20% of the staff at Courtyard by Marriott Muncie at Horizon Convention Center, which opened on Dec.22, consists of people with developmental or other types of disabilities, according to Laura Koenker, general manager.

The hotel provides dormitory-style accommodations for the students of the Erskine Green Training Institute, as well as a meal plan and access to community and athletic events, similar to a collegiate experience. “Once they graduate, they will have the skills to go back to their home community and work in a hotel or restaurant,” said Koenker. “We’re also getting a lot of interest nationwide for this program, not necessarily just from Muncie.”

The hotel, which features original artwork created by individuals with disabilities, is operated for profit, which is used to support the institute and other initiatives of The Arc of Indiana. The institute and hotel are both situated adjacent to the Horizon Convention Center.

The project will also provide a resource for Indiana businesses to successfully hire and maintain employees with disabilities. The Arc of Indiana has recently met with officials from the Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association to make them aware of the benefits of hiring students from the institute.

“We want to demonstrate to companies that you can hire people with disabilities and still run a successful business and make a profit,” said Vaught. “They are expected to perform the same jobs and paid the same rate as their peers, and their performance expectations are the same. In the few weeks that the hotel has been open, [our employees with disabilities]have not only performed equal to or, in some cases, better than their peers.”

Matthew Marin