Swinney's heart shines through in new special needs project

Swinney's heart shines through in new special needs project


Swinney's heart shines through in new special needs project


Since he became head coach at Clemson in 2008, Dabo Swinney has always used his position as a way to serve people. That is why he and his wife, Kathleen, formed Dabo’s All In Team Foundation.

But Swinney does not just serve through his foundation. He also tries to help the Clemson Community in as many ways as possible. One of those is through the ClemsonLIFE Program.

On Saturday, Swinney spoke with ESPN announcer Debbie Antonelli to speak on how The Shepherd Hotel in Clemson is teaming up with the ClemsonLIFE Program to provide jobs for current students and those who have graduated from the program.

“They are going to be employees of The Shepherd Hotel in all areas,” Swinney said during Antonelli’s 24 Hour Nothing But Net Marathon to help raise money for the Special Olympics in South Carolina. “We are going to figure out what is their best spot to be in. Some may be greeting at the door. Some may be working in the kitchen. Some may be cleaning. I don’t know. Whatever their best skills are, but that empowerment from being able to be independent and have a job and serve and just bringing joy to people.”

According to its website, The Shepherd Hotel was inspired by Rick Hayduk, whose daughter, Jamison, has Down syndrome. Hayduk, a seasoned luxury hotel leader, has long aspired to operate a hotel and employ individuals with disabilities as service providers.

In 2011, Swinney, introduced Rick to Rich Davies, a third-generation real estate developer and involved Clemson alum. The two have come together to bring The Shepherd Hotel to life.

Our goal is to approach the employment of individuals with special needs as a business challenge rather than one designated to social services,” The Shepherd Hotel explains on its website. “We aim to create opportunities for an under-engaged portion of the population in a collective, focused environment while providing top-notch service and care to our guests. We have partnered with the ClemsonLIFE program to create part-time roles for students and graduates, and are in the process of creating a Certificate of Hospitality for students who have trained and worked with us prior to graduating.

Swinney has long been an advocate for special needs, going back to his days at Alabama when he was friends with John Mark Stallings, the son of former Alabama head coach Gene Stallings. John Mark had Down syndrome and suffered from health problems related to a congenital heart defect, which eventually caused his death in 2008.

His relationship with John Mark has always stayed with him and has always motivated him to help and inspire others like his good friend. That is why he and the Clemson Football Program have been so involved with the ClemsonLIFE Program.

David Saville, who graduated from the ClemsonLIFE Program, is an equipment manager on Swinney’s staff at Clemson.

Swinney is now thrilled to be helping The Shepherd Hotel team up with ClemsonLIFE.

“I am so excited about it. That is why I got involved. It is just the perfect fit,” he said. “Now we are not just doing this part, but we are creating career opportunities and I think it is going to be a really, really neat concept. I think it is something that, hopefully, is going to really take off and create a lot of opportunities for special needs all over the country.

“But this will be the model. It is going to all start right here in Clemson, South Carolina and it will be connected to this wonderful program called Clemson Life.”

According to its website, The ClemsonLIFE Program offers a two-year Basic Program that incorporates functional academics, independent living, employment, social/leisure skills, and health/wellness skills in a public university setting with the goal of producing self-sufficient young adults.

Additionally, the ClemsonLIFE Program offers a two-year Advanced Program for students that have demonstrated the ability to safely live independently, sustain employment, and socially integrate during the Basic Program. The Advanced Program progresses with an emphasis on workplace experience, community integration, and independent living with transitionally reduced supports. Students who successfully complete the Basic or Advanced program will receive a corresponding certificate of post-secondary education.

Antonelli’s son is a junior at Clemson and is enrolled in the ClemsonLIFE Program.

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