Innisfree Hotels, Able Trust Award

On Friday, June 17, 2016, Innisfree Hotels accepted the Employer of the Year award from The Able Trust, a public-private foundation of the Florida Legislature issuing grants for programs to help persons with disabilities prepare for successful employment.

The Able Trust endows youth programs which provide career development and transition to students with disabilities, including the Escambia High School/High Tech grant administered by Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast.  

Ronald Rivera, who manages the local program, nominated Innisfree Hotels for the prestigious award for its successful partnership at the Holiday Inn Resort on Pensacola Beach, Fla., where youth work side-by-side for several weeks with maintenance crews learning basic hotel maintenance procedures and practices.

The partnership evolved over time, with Rivera reaching out to longtime friend Jason Nicholson, Vice-President of Innisfree Hotels, to ask him to share his story of hard work at the Escambia Boys Base. Once Nicholson met the boys, he was moved by their willingness to improve their lives. When asked to sit on the program’s Business Advisory Council, he agreed.

“It was organic … from two childhood friends to two adults that wanted to give back to youth who would benefit from our services,” Rivera says. “Growing up, Jason and I had many friends who could have benefited from a partnership like this. We saw many friends get lost to the perils of not having proper leadership.”

Nicholson, in fact, comes to this partnership from a place of experience. At one point in his own youth, he says, he was that young man.

“I clearly remember the sense of helplessness I felt … even worse was the feeling of worthlessness that I had failed myself and my family by putting myself in that position,” Nicholson says. “In my opinion, if we do nothing more than to give these young men hope and love, then we’ve done 90% of the work to help them guide themselves to future success.”

Today, Nicholson feels grateful to have found success with a company like Innisfree, whose founders Julian and Kim MacQueen have enabled team members to support a triple bottom line approach to corporate social responsibility, working for profits, the planet and – most importantly – people.

It is understood throughout the company that there is no higher honor than to give of one’s self to the service of mankind. This program fits perfectly well within that belief, according to Nicholson.

The Escambia High/High Tech program serves the youth of AMI Kids in a residential Florida Department of Juvenile Justice facility at the Escambia Boys Base onboard NAS Corry Station, where they benefit from mentorship in teamwork, problem-solving social skills and more.

On October 27, 2015, Escambia High School/High Tech signed a memorandum of agreement with Innisfree Hotels to provide job shadowing opportunities for youths with disabilities, leading to a certification in Hotel Maintenance accepted throughout the industry.

As a result of this partnership, one program participant has been hired as an Innisfree employee.

Innisfree Hotels brings years of hospitality experience to program training at the Holiday Inn Resort, striving to help youth become employable by teaching skills they can use for years to come.

“Not only do we offer an opportunity to teach employable skills, we offer an environment abundant in trust, respect and support,” says Nicholson. “We deeply care for these youths and work hard to make them to feel valued and worthy. We want them to know that they have a place in our world.”

Rivera says the world of service industry can help shape the future of young lives by giving them the opportunity to see first-hand how a great company operates and treats its employees.

“Innisfree is saying to our youth, ‘We believe in you,’ when very few have,” he says. “Our youth have made mistakes in their pasts and often this starts them down the road of further failure, but when someone steps up and says, ‘We care about your future,’ this can have a positive impact. When a company does this, it can change a community.”

Of the nomination, the program manager says, it was a simple choice.

“We could not have asked for a better partner,” Rivera says. “When we thought there was no more to gain from this partnership, we were given new ideas about how to service our youth. When we thought our youth were alone in the world, we found out others cared.”

On behalf of everyone at Innisfree Hotels, Nicholson says:

“Our greatest reward, above all others, is to see the smiles on the faces of those young men … to see their heads pridefully lifted high knowing that someone took the time to teach them. We admire the sacrifice of time and energy these young men make to achieve this big step toward a more positive future and hope this will be the catalyst for many, many more of those brave steps.”

– Ashley Kahn Salley

Lead Storyteller, Innisfree Hotels