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Student lends life experience to event for kids on spectrum

Alyssa Strumbly
Wed, 2018-11-14 06:00

Laughter and smiles filled the Archie Griffin Ballroom Nov. 4 as Maisie Hanley checked on the baby alligator, owl and skunk she helped line up for the college’s sixth Hospitality Listens.

Children on the autism spectrum and their families enjoyed a night of dining and fun activities without worry or stress. Students in the college’s Hospitality Management program put on and organize the event.

Going out to eat with children on the spectrum can pose many challenges, so much so that most families do not even attempt it.

The event seeks to foster the education, understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities that others don’t necessarily see, and to provide the accommodations they need.

The dinner is more than it appears. The hospitality industry, like many others, has an opportunity to develop and elevate customized service for all individuals, said Human Sciences Senior Lecturer Anne Turpin.

By educating hospitality management students, the hope is they will implement the lessons in their careers. This, in turn, makes a lasting impression outside of just the college’s event.

Human Sciences Lecturer Anne Turpin with student Maisie Hanley at the 2018 Hospitality Listens event

Idea prepares participants for the event

Hanley, majoring in hospitality management with a minor in music media and enterprise, was in charge of organizing and planning activities for the children, including partnering with Columbus Zoo to bring critters for the kids to enjoy. She spoke to attendees about her experiences working children with disabilities, and how that impacted her involvement in Hospitality Listens.

“I have always wanted to help,” Hanley said. “My sister has Down Syndrome and we have been going to events put on by The Upside of Downs in Cleveland, meeting many families who have children with Down Syndrome. I have always been exposed to it.

“My mother also works for a speech pathologist that runs the yearlong program, created for children with disabilities…Friendship in Teams,” Hanley said.

Hanley has volunteered at the Friendship in Teams summer camp since she was 12. This experience allowed her to provide some fresh ideas for Hospitality Listens.

“I knew I could bring some knowledge or ideas to the table that maybe previous students...might not have had,” she said.

She came up with the idea to implement a “social story” — a guide that breaks challenging social situations into simple, yet highly descriptive steps — for the children and families to view before coming.

“It is really just one way of trying to relieve some anxiety that a lot of kids with autism have, especially when it comes to new things,” said Hanley. “I made a PowerPoint that walks through what the patrons can expect during the event.” The theme: Around the World.

Children play with hospitality management students in the activities area at the event.

Developing leaders

“Hospitality Listens is a signature event in the Hospitality Management program that provides students an opportunity to gain not only real-world experience by applying what they have learned in the classroom, but also gaining academic credit,” Turpin said.

Hospitality students are responsible from start to finish in the planning and execution of the event. Hanley, who hopes to go into music event planning, found the experience valuable.

“Even if it is not necessarily working with people on the autism spectrum, I think planning this event helped my event planning skills,” Hanley said. “I value opportunities like this. I am always learning.”

The end-goal is creating a community that is more culturally aware of the people and environment around them. It is so important that understanding and inclusion of individuals with special needs are valued across the board, Turpin said.

Turpin, who helped to develop Hospitality Listens, believes that the way to make a lasting change is not necessarily by growing the event itself, but by continuing to educate students who will take what they have learned into their careers.

“If we graduate 100 students each year, we can make a significant impact in our communities. These students, who are future leaders in hospitality, will bring not only these lessons, but also the mindset into the workforce – making a positive impact on hospitality. That's how we sustain and grow our efforts.”

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