LongHorn Steakhouse recently treated Cleveland High School’s students with special needs to a festive holiday party.
The restaurant, which regularly partners with CHS’ special services department for work-based learning opportunities, celebrated with the students Friday.
Students got to visit the restaurant to enjoy a free lunch, dessert, a visit from Santa Claus and more. Special recognition was also given to the students who have gained work experience there.
Gayle Hiddleson, special services coordinator at CHS, said the local restaurant has for four years now been allowing students with special needs to help out at the restaurant and learn new job skills.
“I am very thankful that LongHorn has partnered with us for work-based learning,” Hiddleson said. “The students that have been involved here have learned so much about the work world.”
Leeann Pulliam, managing partner for LongHorn Steakhouse, explained several of these students from CHS have worked closely with restaurant staff to learn how to complete various tasks. These opportunities have included learning how to assist with measuring and sorting ingredients while maintaining good food safety practices.
“Our staff really enjoy working with these students,” Pulliam said. “The students are often really, really excited to come to work, and we like teaching them skills they can hopefully use to find good jobs in the future.”
Pulliam said some of the former students have gone on to gain employment outside school, which has made this partnership “especially rewarding.”
The annual party held Friday was one filled with the sounds of laughter and well-known Christmas songs. However, it was also filled with words of thanks and congratulations for everyone involved in this partnership.
CHS teacher Dr. Anita Brown said she and her colleagues in the special services department work hard to teach students the skills they need to find success after high school. However, business partners such as LongHorn give them the unique chance to learn real-world job skills in real work environments.
“I could not do my job without partnerships like this,” Brown said. “Students getting these opportunities means a lot to us.”
Brown noted LongHorn is just one local partner that has helped the students with work experiences. One such partner is DQ Grill and Chill, which treated the students to an ice cream party just before Thanksgiving break.
Pulliam said she would love to see even more businesses offer opportunities for students with special needs to learn job skills and develop their strengths.
“Everyone has a strength,” Pulliam said. “It’s a matter of finding what it is and letting them pursue it.”