Fitting in at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom
Chris Emery of Longswamp Township, Berks County, worried he may have done something wrong when he found out Feb. 4 he would not be welcomed back to a job he held for 12 years at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, South Whitehall.
Anyone going to the amusement park may have seen Chris Emery cleaning the bathrooms, sweeping, handing out maps and giving directions to guests.
This 2006 Brandywine High School graduate first heard about the job 12 years ago through family friends.
He learned life skills — cooking, washing dishes and completing outside work, such as using a leaf blower and lawn mower and picking up sticks — at Berks Career and Technology Center.
He graduated with his friends at age 18.
Each year he interviewed at the park, his mother, Claudia, was permitted to sit with her son during the interview process.
On Feb. 4, Claudia Emery was not permitted at the interview.
At this time, Chris was asked to write words and draw pictures about Dorney, build a Legos train, read flash cards about guest problems and explain how to solve those problems.
Claudia said her son had difficulty reading the flash cards and building the train.
“Because he wouldn’t interact and build a train out of Legos, he was told he does not fit into what they were looking for,” she said.
Chris was also told he could go back in 30 days and interview again.
“The interview process was not set up for special needs kids,” Claudia said.
During an interview Feb. 5, Chris proudly showed The Press his multiple awards earned while at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom.
Working 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, Chris never called in sick.
Claudia said she heard other special needs interviewees had the same difficulty with the new interview process.
A friend of Chris’ shared the story on social media Feb. 4. The post received thousands of views and shares.
On Feb. 5, Claudia heard from a representative of Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, who also posted on social media in response to the social media outrage.
“We respect, value and appreciate all of our dedicated associates. I’ve known Chris for many years, and when I became aware of this situation, I requested we immediately reach out to him and his family to let them know that we would happily welcome Chris back for a 13th season,” Mike Fehnel, vice president and general manager of Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, wrote.
Fehnel apologized and told Claudia her son would have his job for the upcoming season and said he would not have to go through any more interviews.
At press time, calls had not been returned to The Press by a representative of Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom.
Claudia told Fehnel she could not give an answer about her son’s return to the park.
“He is a marked target now,” the family said. “Everyone knows.”
“I didn’t know how to feel,” Chris said after finding out he would not have a job at Dorney this summer.
He said he wondered, “Did I do something wrong?”
After assurances by his family he did nothing wrong, Chris said, at this point, he does not want to go back.
The family has season passes to the park and will continue to go because Chris likes going.
“Now I am going to just be a guest so I’ll be able to play games,” he said.
Throughout the interview, the 29 year old continued smiling and quickly described a recent trip to Disney to celebrate his birthday in October 2015.
“I got a special birthday bag in our room with balloons, Mickey Mouse ears made with Rice Krispies, books, pretzels, mustard and a Mickey hat with my name on it,” he said.
Chris said he is going to start saving money for his next vacation, which will be to Ocean City, Md.
He is also looking forward to seeing “Disney on Ice” in Reading and several other dinner shows.
Other favorites include anything Minions, Disney Channel, Disney movies, pizza and the Alburtis Tavern sampler dish.
Claudia said Chris has already received several job offers.
“He likes to work and likes feeling independent,” Claudia said.
Still smiling, Chris proudly showed his employee of the week awards, employee of the month awards and a special cornerstone award that is very difficult to earn. This award was accompanied by a $50 gift card.
The certificate of recognition was awarded to him “in recognition of your successful completion of the Dorney Park Cornerstone Program. Thank you for your continued efforts in upholding Cedar Fair’s principles of Safety, Service, Courtesy, Cleanliness and Integrity.”
The award was signed by Jason McClure, vice president and general manager of Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, Oct. 22, 2010.
Also on display are his service pins earned for the last 12 years.
Putting the difficult interview behind him, Chris is now looking forward to Valentine’s Day weekend, when he will attend the Tim Tebow Foundation Night to Shine at Hope Community Church in King of Prussia.
The event is an “unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs at host churches across the country,” according to the foundation’s website.
The event takes place on the same weekend at 44 churches in 26 states and three countries.
As his eyes sparkle, he finds out all the gentlemen will be named “kings” and the ladies will be named “queens.”
A red carpet and limousine ride may also be in his future.