Every weekday, for eight weeks at a time, a team of four or five Easterseals Arc Employment Readiness Academy participants arrive at the Holiday Inn Purdue Fort Wayne and set to work.
Throughout their five-hour daily shifts, they help employees in the housekeeping and laundry departments accomplish more and get real experience that could better equip them to land jobs in a competitive labor market.
The work at the Holiday Inn appeals to many of the ERA participants.
“I like doing laundry. I like doing the trash,” Vince said.
“I love my job,” Anthony said. Often the work at the hotel follows a familiar, comfortable routine, and he likes that. “We do the same thing every day.”
Easterseals Arc staff member Noah Younghans supervises those in the ERA, and he said the hotel staff is great to work with. Among the hotel staff, the person who most directly provides guidance to the ERA team is Bill Robinson, the Holiday Inn’s maintenance supervisor.
“They have been a joy. They have been a lively and happy group,” Robinson said. “Everybody likes them. When they have a job to do, they’re busy.”
They arrive each morning by 9:30. They begin on the topmost floor where guests have checked out, stripping sheets and collecting towels. They move their carts down, floor by floor, clearing rooms. At the ground floor, they deliver the towels and linens to the laundry.
Katrina Johnson, a Holiday Inn employee who works in the laundry, appreciates what the ERA team members contribute to the workflow in the hotel.
“They help a lot, bringing down laundry,” Johnson said. “That helps me a lot, and it helps the housekeepers.”
If the team from Easterseals Arc wasn’t at work, either Johnson would have to go upstairs to get laundry from the housekeeping staff, or the housekeepers would have to spend more time on each room, collecting and bringing laundry downstairs.
From the laundry, the ERA participants fan out through common areas on each floor, in bathrooms, in the lobby and immediately outside hotel entrances. Some of them begin emptying trash containers. Others get dust mops, towels and spray-bottles of cleaner to begin their most visible work.
Robinson, the hotel’s maintenance supervisor, said the ERA participants are responsible for keeping “high-touch” areas, such as tabletops and chairs, clean. They use dust mops clean lamps, moulding and picture frames. This detail work helps preserve a sharp, fresh look in the hotel’s common areas.
Bethany is unusual among the people in the ERA because she already has independent employment – part-time jobs at Goodwill and Kroger. She still enjoys being part of an ERA sometimes.
“I like being with my friends and peers,” Bethany said. On the days when she works in the ERA – every participant must work at least three shifts a week – Bethany takes it on herself to act as a kind of assistant supervisor. She moves naturally among the other participants, helping them out and checking in on them. She refers to a checklist of daily tasks for the ERA, then compares notes with Younghans.
The benefit for the Holiday Inn in its partnership with Easterseals Arc is clear: As they learn about entry-level jobs in the hospitality field, the ERA workers free up laundry and housekeeping staff for more specialized work.
In return, the Easterseals Arc participants get realistic experience on the job. As Suzanne Vertigan, Easterseals Arc’s workforce development liaison, said, companies who partner in an ERA are “providing hands-on skill development and on-the-job training for participants who are exploring competitive employment. … The goal of the program is to increase skills and gain experience.”
The hospitality business is packed with employers looking to hire. One online job board in March 2022 showed at least 20 hotels and motels in Fort Wayne with openings for full- or part-time housekeeping staff.
Even if their ERA experience doesn’t lead participants to jobs with hotels, it can have lasting benefits. As Vertigan said, “Participants will learn general personal skills for workplace success as well as transferable job skills.”