By ZOE NICHOLSON
The Greenville News
CLEMSON - ClemsonLIFE sophomore David "Tanner" Smith currently works two on-campus jobs - one at Fike Recreation Center and the other in the Division of Undergraduate Studies - but he already has a new job lined up at the Shepherd Hotel, opening Summer 2021.
The Shepherd Hotel will be a five-story boutique hotel in the heart of downtown Clemson. The luxury hotel is replacing the site of the old BB&T office on College Ave.
ClemsonLIFE, the university program for students with intellectual disabilities, is sponsored by the hotel. The hotel will provide ClemsonLIFE students like Tanner with employment opportunities.
Given the chance, Tanner would love to work as a receptionist, greeting people as they enter the 67-room hotel.
The idea for the socially-conscious hotel comes from longtime hotel and property manager, Rick Hayduk. His teenage daughter, Jamison Hayduk, has Down Syndrome, but has always dreamed of working in the hospitality industry. This dream gave life to The Shepherd Hotel, the Independent-Mail reported in 2018.
"When my daughter was born, I knew I wanted to do something about her future, today," Hayduk said during a panel discussion on Nov. 14.
On that evening, a couple of hundred people gathered to celebrate the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Shepherd Hotel. Moved indoors to the West EndZone Club at Memorial Stadium, ClemsonLIFE students hoisted golden shovels to commemorate the beginning of the hotel's construction at the nearby 389 College Ave. site.
Dabo Swinney, a longtime supporter of ClemsonLIFE, sat on the panel along with his wife, Kathleen Swinney. Swinney said the Shepherd Hotel's vision aligns closely with his own coaching philosophy.
"Football is important, but we want to prepare them for life after Clemson football. It's the exact same responsibility with ClemsonLIFE," Coach Swinney said.
The hotel is the first of its kind, but co-founders Hayduk and All In Foundation President Rich Davies want to expand their concept nationally. ClemsonLIFE Program Manager Erica Walters said there are 170 programs similar to ClemsonLIFE on college campuses across the nation.
"Our goal is to see 170 colleges with a Shepherd Hotel nearby. So we're starting right here in Clemson," Davies said. Hayduk and Davies envision a majority of their staff having special needs.
The Shepherd will also be the only hotel in Clemson's downtown, a much-needed addition to the entertainment district, Swinney said.
The Southern-inspired decor will exude sophistication and approachability in the same breath, according to a presentation from the developers. The downstairs lobby will open onto College Avenue with a "grand staircase" and a second-story terrace looking over College Avenue will provide al fresco happy hour for patrons and residents alike.
Preparing ClemsonLIFE students for a post-grad career
Currently, there is an 80% unemployment rate for people with special needs. Hayduk said his hotel aims to lessen that percentage by providing vocational training.
Just shy of 100% of ClemsonLIFE graduates are currently employed, the program's director, Dr. Joe Ryan, said Thursday. Ryan said ClemsonLIFE currently partners with 31 local businesses and many university departments to provide internships and jobs for his 40 students, but they can only take one or two students at a time.
"The opportunity to partner with a hotel opens up so many doors for us," he said. The Shepherd Hotel will be able to employ 25 to 30 ClemsonLIFE students, according to Ryan. The educator added that there will be classroom space in the hotel's basement for classes that ClemsonLIFE students will be taking alongside Parks, Recreations and Tourism Management majors.
The vocational skills and PRTM certifications the students will learn at the hotel will be soft skills, or easily transferable labor skills graduates can utilize in a number of careers post-graduation.
Unusual for a boutique hotel, The Shepherd will have on-site laundry facilities, so ClemsonLIFE employees can learn how to wash, dry and fold linens and towels.
Davies, a developer by trade, said the financial commitment to employing special needs folks is significant, which is why his team is partnering with a number of companies like Mitsubishi, Moen and Trane.
Hayduk said a typical housekeeper can clean about 18 rooms during an eight-hour shift. An intellectually disabled housekeeper can clean between six and eight rooms during that same time.
"Over 10 years, it'll be a significant investment that we are excited to make," Hayduk said.
Swinney, who introduced the hotel's co-founders, said the hotel represents something larger than a new development.
"When you come to this hotel, you're going to feel what makes Clemson special, and that's the spirit of Clemson."
"And no one represents the spirit of Clemson better than these ClemsonLIFE students."
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