By: Joanie Cox-Henry Contributing Writer
When Marc Syger began his internship in food and beverage at Boca West Country Club, his father later said it was the happiest year of his son’s life. Syger was one of seven interns with intellectual and developmental disabilities training for the workforce through a partnership between Boca West Country Club, Project SEARCH, Unicorn Children’s Foundation and Unicorn Village Academy.
This class of seven interns ranging in age from 18 to 24 started their program in August 2018 and participated in a graduation ceremony at Boca West on May 30. Syger, Trent Alber, Shane Hayes, Gian Paul Salazar, Gabriel Bernstein, James Lynn and Jason Schepps were the interns who were part of this inaugural group.
“We were honored to be chosen by Unicorn Children’s Village CEO Sharon Alexander as their first location to do this program,” Boca West Country Club COO and General Manager Matthew Linderman said. “We hire here on attitude and we’d much rather hire an employee with a smile and then teach them the rest.”
Linderman was proud to have made job offers at Boca West to all seven interns who participated. Golf course maintenance, restaurants and retail and accounting are some of the areas the new hires trained and will be working.
Alexander searched for two years for a company to partner with their non-profit organization, which is dedicated to building communities of acceptance, support and opportunity for individuals and families challenged by special needs and neurodiversity.
“This is the first private club in the world who has done a Project SEARCH,” Alexander said. “We’ve had a longterm relationship with Boca West over the years and it felt like a natural extension that they’d be supporting our program. And there’s not a better program than what Boca West provided.”
Staff and members have said the partnership changed their lives, according to Alexander.
“Several of the members have grandchildren with developmental disabilities,” Alexander said. “One in five children are diagnosed with a learning disorder and 80 percent of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unemployed despite their desire and ability to work. There has been nothing more rewarding than watching these amazing kids get job offers.”
The interns and their parents were treated to a lavish spread of lunch fare including a milkshake station and a custom cake as they received their graduation certificates.
“Getting to meet new friends was my favorite part of my internship,” said Syger, 21. “I’m grateful for this opportunity.”
Syger’s father has been impressed with the how much his son has grown since starting his internship. “This opportunity has given him a significant level of independence,” Oscar Syger said. “It is beyond words. Boca West has been incredible and this experience has exceeded my wildest dreams.”