Skip to main content

Hospitality Training Program Changes Lives

After serving in the U.S. Army for six years, Christene Young faced personal challenges while transitioning back to civilian life. After graduating from the Learning Skills for Life (LSFL) hospitality program – a partnership between Hilton College and Diageo, a global leader in premium beverage alcohol – Young said she once again has the confidence to fulfill her dreams.

With a goal of helping veterans secure jobs in the hospitality industry, Learning Skills for Life is a four-week program that trains participants in tourism, hospitality, entrepreneurship and bartending. Faculty and staff from the College and Hilton University of Houston voluntarily support the LSFL curriculum, and there is no cost for tuition. Upon graduation, each participant receives a completion certificate from the College and one from the city of Houston signed by Mayor Sylvester Turner.

LSFL graduates successfully complete practical training, passing exams to obtain the ServSafe Food Handlers certificate from the National Restaurant Association and the Seller/Server license from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Additionally, participants gain valuable life skills, such as managing personal finances, preparing for employment interviews, working in a team environment, and writing résumés and cover letters.

For its 12th cohort, LSFL has seen one of its largest and most diverse graduate classes to date, after Justin Arriazola (’13) took the reins as program manager. Previously the front desk lead supervisor of the hotel, Arriazola has been involved with the program since it was first offered at the College in 2015, speaking to classes about front desk operations and the principles of customer service. Before his involvement, administrative assistant Yolanda Castro handled logistics for cohorts five to 11, including organizing graduation, liaising with industry sponsors, as well as scheduling classes, field trips and visits from guest speakers. 

Most who apply for admission to Learning Skills for Life are in the process of rebuilding their lives after facing significant difficulties. Graduation day is often emotional as LSFL graduates deliver their final class remarks, sharing stories in front of loved ones, community partners and prospective employers who are all invited to the event. On May 29, Young took the podium as one of two graduating speakers.

“The world had left a bad taste in my mouth, but I learned that it takes a little love, a lot of patience and a mustard seed of faith to get where we need to go in life,” she said. “Before I came to this class, I was in shambles, anxiety-ridden with a dim-lit spirit, but now I’m ready to break out of my shell and shine.”

After meeting Arriazola and her classmates, and after being inspired by the hospitality industry, Young found the motivation and support to apply for admission to the University of Houston. She plans to pursue a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management at the College. Her experience with the LSFL program was transformational, and she hopes to one day give back to the community.

Stories like Young’s are what inspire Arriazola to lead LSFL, along with his passion for hospitality and in working to expand the program’s support network to include local businesses that would like to assist veterans in getting their lives back on track. Learning Skills for Life is accepting applications for its next cohort, with classes beginning Oct. 28. For more information about how to apply or to get involved, e-mail Arriazola or call 713-743-5894.

(Story & Photo: Pearl Cajoles)

Posted on July 18, 2019