On Sundays, residents at The Village at Penn State are greeted warmly at the omelet station by Ali Dajani. While making their favorite omelet, he talks with each one about whatever’s on their mind. That’s usually the previous day’s football game (or not depending on how well Penn State played).
The Village and the SCAHS Work Experience Program
Ali began working at The Village through a program called the State College Area High School (SCAHS) Work Experience Program. The Village first learned about the program several years ago when another employee who attended SCAHS realized that, with the hours she was working, she could qualify for the program.
The program is a win/win for SCAHS and The Village. “At the time, we were struggling to hire enough employees to cover dining services,” shares Duane Leitzell, Director of Dining Services. “For high school students, this is often their first job. Since we’re in hospitality, we hire smiles and look at how a person interacts with people. We can teach them everything else they need to do the job well.”
In the 2017-2018 school year, SCAHS awarded The Village with their Employer of the Year Award. The program has done so well that last year The Village hired five students.
Pursuing passion at The Village
For students like Ali, they not only get the work experience, but many develop a love for the industry and pursue a career in hospitality and culinary arts. Ali is currently a freshman at Penn State majoring in hospitality management. He has aspirations of continuing on to culinary art school.
“I love being able to do something that I’m passionate about,” expresses Ali. “With the SCAHS program, I could take what I was learning in the classroom and put it into practice at The Village. And Chef Craig has been a great mentor.”
Executive Chef Craig Hamilton adds, “It’s pretty cool to watch how much Ali’s caught onto. I have fun working with all of the students. I get to step out of my normal routine and teach them something that they’re eager to learn. It’s rewarding to watch them grow.”
Forming friendships with residents
And how do the people who call The Village home feel about having high school students working there? Duane shared that the feedback on surveys has been very positive. They love having youth around. While students often feel intimidated at the beginning, they quickly become friends with many of the residents. Some of those friendships even continue to thrive long after the student has left The Village to pursue a career elsewhere.