When the Seoul Garden Group hired interns with disabilities for its HarbourFront outlets in March, it did not expect that the Covid-19 pandemic would force the stores to close temporarily.
However, instead of letting them go, the restaurant chain opted to keep the interns - who were hired through the SG Enable school-to-work transition programme.
As Covid-19 cases spiked, the firm made the interns undergo online training during the circuit breaker period with the help of SG Enable job coaches. The interns returned to work at the HarbourFront outlets in phase two.
Yesterday, Seoul Garden was one of 64 organisations lauded for their inclusive hiring practices and raising funds for this year's President's Challenge, despite headwinds posed by the pandemic.
Seoul Garden Group general manager Garry Lam said that the restaurant chain supported the interns' training over the course of the year.
He said: "After the restaurants reopened in phase two, we continued working closely with the job coaches to manage the interns' transition back to the outlets and their adaptation to the new work processes."
At the annual appreciation event yesterday - held virtually this year - President Halimah Yacob took part in a live chat with donors and volunteers. She said: "Amid this challenging time of the pandemic, the generous support of our partners has contributed greatly to uplifting the lives of those less fortunate in our society.
"The President's Challenge will continue to focus on helping vulnerable groups adapt and remain resilient, and not be left behind. We can all make a difference. It just requires a small step from each one of us."
Hiring people with disabilities has a been a longstanding practice at Seoul Garden. Its employees with disabilities have been recognised for their contributions and risen up the ranks - no different from able-bodied staff.
Earlier this year, Seoul Garden took up the President's Challenge Enabling Employment Pledge, making a commitment to adopt an inclusive mindset, create a barrier-free workplace and implement supportive employment policies for employees with disabilities.
Fund-raising and volunteering activities were among those affected during the circuit breaker period, with many organisations finding new ways to run the activities.
For instance, Families for Life held a "Red and White" National Day Desserts campaign, where donors received an e-booklet of dessert recipes, including an agar-agar recipe from the President.
Madam Halimah said the President's Challenge was an important national movement that helps rally Singaporeans to come together and build a more caring and inclusive society.
She said: "Our social, economic landscape and people's expectations and needs have also changed, with greater income and job insecurity. It is important that we empower our needy with skills and capabilities so that they can live meaningful lives, secure good jobs and contribute to society."
The President's Challenge is on track to raise more than $12.5 million this year for 72 agencies, and has mobilised over 2,000 volunteers from 20 organisations so far.
Madam Halimah said the focus of next year's President's Challenge would be on building a digitally inclusive society.
She said: "Covid-19 has accelerated the need for digital transformation, and President's Challenge 2021 will support efforts to empower vulnerable groups with digital tools, skills and connectivity for them to remain socially and economically active.
"I encourage our social service agencies to innovate and adopt digital technologies to better navigate new and complex challenges within the social service sector."