The greatest heartache of my life was losing my son, Stephen, in June 2013. From the time he was a teenager, Stephen suffered from a rare mitochondrial disease that slowly cost him his eyesight, hearing and eventually his life. I’ve said before that Stephen was my hero. He didn’t let his disease or his disabilities get in the way of pursuing his dreams. I admired that greatly.
One of Stephen’s great passions was his work with the Marriott Foundation for People With Disabilities. He loved the Bridges From School to Work program that created job opportunities for youth with disabilities.
The program recently celebrated its 25-year anniversary. For a quarter century, Bridges has partnered with more than 4,000 businesses to serve more than 20,000 young people. Both the leaders in the program and the employers recognize the students’ courage and their potential for success. But, I don’t think it’s just the students who benefit. I truly believe business leaders who see beyond the disability are the ones who build the best, most diverse and most committed teams.
Let me introduce you to one of the Bridges participants… Jonathan Keepler was born with a cognitive delay and learning disabilities. He came to the Bridges program in Atlanta and wanted to work in the banquet rooms at a hotel. I love hearing how his determination and the Bridges program helped transform this shy, quiet kid to a gainfully employed young man whom everyone loves having around.
I am inspired by these young people, just as I was inspired by my son, Stephen. I’m proud that the Marriott Foundation for People With Disabilities is playing a part in seeing the ability and promise these students have. And I applaud my brother, Richard, for heading up this Foundation and following through on many speeches and meetings.
I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.