Seeing the Ability and the Promise

November 3, 2015

JWM-Donna-Stephen MarriottThe 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.


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Thank you Mr. & Mrs. Marriott for highlighting Jonathans story. His video is an inspiration to us all.

Stephen taught me how the core values of the company differentiated us from the competition and how we need to constantly practice them to grow as an organization.

Stephen embodied the spirit of our Company and through the Bridges program we continue to welcome gifted individuals into our organization.

Thank you for all you have done to build such an inclusive business.

Best personal regards


Really lovely post, we are your biggest fans xx

After reading this article I am very inspired to learn more about this foundation. I used to work for Marriott and I can tell from my experience there that they are a company that really gives back. We need more foundations like this to help other struggling children. It is very nice to see the positive results of this program. I will keep following up on this foundation.

Dear Mr. M,

I have a special place in my heart for Stephen, he was a really nice man and I sat near him many years ago on the 2nd floor here at HQ. I too have a special needs Nephew who is making great strides despite his learning challenges. He will be 21 - graduation age for people with disabilities in PG County MD and I pray he will be able to work with the Bridges From School to Work program when he graduates! Thanks for all you do for the community! Best regards,


Dearest Mr. Marriott,

While the loss of a loved one is never easy, even when anticipated, it is most certainly the hardest when they are taken from us too soon. Your recent loss of your son who has left us at such a youthful age is definitely in the category of those hard losses for which there is so painful a reminder of what might have been.

I offer our sincere condolence and deepest sympathy on your loss. May the outpouring of sympathy, the kind acts of friends and strangers and the comfort in knowing that your loss is felt by many, help you through this difficult time.

I ask for God's blessings on you and your wonderful family. May you find the courage and strength to move forward in peace and confidence and in knowing that his was a life well-lived.

Yours In Peace,


My name is Leonard Almiron from Maui, Hawaii. I work for The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua for 10 years now. I was one of the polio victims in the Philippines (my native country) in late 1960s. I am so fortunate that the Ritz-Carlton has hired me as an accounting clerk though I am using a wheelchair and I am enjoying my job. My salute to the Marriott family for helping disabled people like me to work. Mahalo!

Its a blessing when we can see past the disability and look into the hearts and desires of these individuals. Thanks for sharing this inspiration story, puts my problems into prospective. Its exactly what I needed today!

Mr. Marriott,

I enjoyed working and teaching sales school with Steve. I miss talking sports with him and discussing sales classes. I am retired after 28 years with Marriott. The life lessons I learn from the company and Steve have help us grow a real estate company for our children.

God Bless you and the Marriott Family.


Thank you, Mr. Marriott, for this very inspiring and successful story of Jonathon from the Marriott Foundation for People With Disabilities program. We are very sorry to hear of the loss of your son, Stephen, but are happy that this wonderful program emerged from his inspiration. You have an amazing family and we admire all you that the Marriott's have accomplished since the Hot Shoppe's decades ago. Starting with the purchase our Waiohai timeshare in 2005 the quality and time our family spends together has improved and changed dramatically. Thank you, thank you so much for your dedication and vision.

What a wonderful program! I am sorry for your loss, Bill. Please don't think that I am just mouthing words when I say this, either.
Even though the Bridges Program had its start in this way, just think of all the marvelous young people it has helped - and will continue to help- through people getting involved! If I were a business owner, I would surely wish to be involved!
I also wanted to mention that I see you and Lee Cockerell as two of my mentors as I continue to become a leader. Thank you for what you and your Foundation do for so many individuals!

I am so very inspired by Marriott's community spirit in educating young people in the workforce who need assistance the most. I was almost brought to tears when I saw the joy in their faces to be an employee. I've been a loyal customer of Marriott's for many years. I was so inspired by your book that I purchased a copy for my grandson. I wanted him to know that Marriott was a wonderful place to work. My grandson is not mentally challenged, he is a barber student, and being mentored to enter the church ministry. I told him that when he graduates to remember to checkout Marriott because it's a wonderful place to work because your core values match his.

Mr. M – A well-run company has more than the bottom line as its measurement of performance. What is a company's purpose? What's its heart and soul? At Marriott International, it's YOU! (and your family) More business leaders need strong, indefatigable core values to guide them. You are an inspiration to us all. I feel like I know Stephen. His Bridges work reminds us that he's very much alive as an inspiration to us all.