DIALOGUE Interviews Renee DiFlavio of the Statler Center

Recently we contacted Renee DiFlavio, Vice President of Education and Employment at the National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality Service, to gain insights into this cutting-edge program based in Buffalo, New York. Here is what we learned.

The National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality Service was conceived to pair the work potential of the visually impaired population as well as people with other physical disabilities to potential job opportunities in the hospitality industry. The Statler Center successfully prepares disabled individuals for hospitality careers by providing an overview of the industry along with job-specific knowledge. Graduates of this one-of-a-kind program are computer literate, equipped with a thorough knowledge of industry standards and ready for successful, long-term careers. The Statler Center trains for an industry that is in desperate need of good employees, which means that job prospects for graduates are incredibly strong. Potential employers include hotels, convention centers, travel agencies and restaurants. Job training assistance is provided to Statler graduates, resulting in a job placement rate of approximately 85 percent!

Job-placement-related efforts have helped students embark on exciting careers as front desk agents, reservationists, night auditors, rapid response agents and PBX operators just to name a few. The job placement team assists graduates with career advancement via the employee advancement program. The Statler Center also provides students with the "soft skills" they need to both acquire and maintain employment, which better prepares students to deal with the realities of the working world. Seminars are held that address interviewing techniques, dressing for success, conflict management, conducting a job search and more. These seminars help give students a comprehensive education.

The Statler Center has graduated more than 20 classes to date and graduates have been hired by many different hospitality-related companies, such as Adam's Mark, Sheraton, Marriott, Radisson, Hampton Hotels, MGM and many others. Students have come from all over the nation, including but not limited to Hawaii, California, Florida, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Texas and New Jersey. The Statler Center has also taken on an international presence, welcoming students from Canada and Armenia!

The Statler Center's program is definitely growing. The first class for the Nevada extension program was held this past January in Las Vegas, which enabled the Statler Center to "take the show on the road." Statler staff traveled to Las Vegas to train 10 blind, visually impaired and/or physically disabled residents of the state of Nevada. The program went incredibly well; so much so that the staff will be returning to Las Vegas this August and will probably conduct at least two classes a year in Nevada. The Statler Center is engaged in conversations with other locales concerning the idea of additional extension programs, including the states of Florida and Michigan, as well as Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The Statler Center is the only program of its kind in the United States. As a result, the Statler Center works very closely with many blindness-related organizations that refer people to the center.

The Statler Center is primarily funded through local and national foundations and is a program of the Olmsted Center of the Visually Impaired. The Olmsted Center was recently granted permission by the New York State Department of Education's Bureau of Proprietary Schools to open an officially registered and licensed business school. The Olmsted Center will open the school in September 2007 and will provide computer training courses on a variety of Microsoft applications. This is a very exciting endeavor that will enable the Olmsted Center to provide even more services to the disabled community.

In addition, the Statler Center was recently awarded a grant from a national foundation. These funds will allow the center to train and work with disabled people more strategically (as opposed to finding one job at a time). In this model, job placement will actually be "front-loaded" through the development of corporate relationships with businesses that have shown commitment to hiring disabled people, have positions available, and are willing to partner in advance with the Statler Center for training and job placement. Using the currently proposed strategy, the Statler Center would seek to contract with various customer service organizations to tailor-train an agreed-upon number of visually impaired individuals to assume such positions pending successful graduation from the program. This is an outstanding opportunity for the agency and for future students!

For more information, contact Renee DiFlavio at the National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality Service, 1160 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14209; Phone: 716-882-5690 ext. 268; E-mail:  rdiflavio@statlercenter.org . Visit the Statler Center online at  www.statlercenter.org .

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