CATONSVILLE, MD (March 16, 2015) -- While still a freshman in high school, Dominique Chandler began working as a waiter at Charlestown retirement community hoping to earn some money toward college. But unlike most first jobs, this one gave Chandler more than just a paycheck—he got the wisdom and support of 2,300 adopted grandparents.
"I love what I do. Working here at Charlestown has given me many great experiences and has afforded me the opportunity to meet so many great people," says Chandler, now the supervisor at Charlestown's Atrium Restaurant.
"Charlestown gives young people the opportunity to gain valuable work experience through hands-on training and provides a sense of responsibility and maturity" says Chandler. "One of the many valuable life lessons I have learned from working here at Charlestown is to have respect for your elders. The lives they have lived, the experiences they have gone through, and the challenges they have overcome in their lives are noteworthy."
Charlestown's six restaurants are staffed with high school students who mainly work as hosts and servers. In addition to a regular paycheck, students have the opportunity to earn up to $500 a semester through the Charlestown Scholar's Fund, a scholarship program funded by the residents and management of Charlestown.
The Charlestown Scholar's Fund was established in 1988. Since then, more than $2.3 million has been awarded. Students become eligible for the scholarship by completing 1,000 hours of work and carrying at least a 2.0 grade point average. Eligible students receive $1,200 per year with a lifetime maximum of $4,800 toward higher education.
Chandler attended the Community College of Baltimore County and later Stratford University where he studied advanced culinary arts with scholarship money he received from the Charlestown Scholar's Fund.
"We have students working here from about 30 different city and county schools," says Lateshia Griggs, human resources recruiter at Charlestown. "The four big schools that we recruit from are Western Tech, Catonsville, Lansdowne, and Woodlawn High Schools."
Griggs says students must be at least 15 years, 8 months old to apply. Once hired, they work three, four-hour shifts each week.
"We look for students who have an outgoing spirit; a willingness to learn; great communication skills; and a friendly, enthusiastic personality," says Griggs.
Charlestown Chef de Cuisine Kira Brosig began working as a server at Charlestown at age 15.
"I went to high school down the street from Charlestown, and I also had a friend who was working here," says Brosig. "The opportunity to earn money to further my education was very enticing."
Brosig attended Anne Arundel Community College and majored in business management while continuing to work at Charlestown as a dining room captain. After receiving her culinary arts certificate, she went on to become a line cook and then sous chef before earning the title chef de cuisine.
"I feel blessed to know the residents here," says Brosig, who is now married and expecting her second child. "Every one of them has a story. They watched me grow up and still want to know how I'm doing and what is going on in my life."
Charlestown resident Roberta Poulton speaks with new students at orientation about what life is like as a resident.
"A lot of the students haven't had relationships with people from this generation," says Poulton, a retired pediatric nurse. "I tell them their perception of what a 'senior' is might not be what you will experience here at Charlestown. We aren't sitting around in rocking chairs. We are busy taking college classes, joining clubs, and attending events—it feels more like a college campus than a retirement community."
This coming June, Charlestown residents will celebrate the current class of graduating students with a graduation ceremony held in the John Erickson Conference Center. It is an opportunity for the students to introduce their families from home with their resident family at Charlestown.
"The residents share a lot with the students about their lives and career paths, and I believe it helps to shape their future career goals," says Griggs.
Poulton says she has met many students who started out as servers and went on to become managers or gone into the culinary arts.
"You get to know them, and they get to know you," says Poulton. "They really become like part of your family. It's nice to see them succeed."