Adults With Disabilities to Open Café in Lincoln Square
The café is the newest project by Gateway to Learning, a program that aims to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.
For more than 20 years, people with intellectual disabilities have been creating delicious meals and treats at Gateway to Learning on Lincoln Avenue. And soon, the rest of Lincoln Square will be able to sample their fares.
In April, GTL—a private day training program for adults with disabilities—plans to open its first member-run café.
Dorothy’s Can-Do Café will have cookies, chocolates and other baked goods. Workers will also be serving Aspire CoffeeWorks, a nonprofit partner of Metropolis Coffee that benefits people with disabilities.
The cookies—particularly the potato chip cookies—are the best, according to 37-year-old Vivie. Vivie has already been selected for the program and said she was excited about sharing the bakery’s goods with everyone.
The café is named after Gateway to Learning founder Dorothy Hough. She began the center more than 35 years ago after having two children with disabilities. Hough was frustrated with regular classrooms and started her own curriculum based around skills learned in the food service industry. In 2005, Hough died after creating a lasting program for people with disabilities.
“We hope it puts a little bit of her back into here and reminds everybody of where we came from,” Development Specialist Kathleen Wilson said. “There are so many different aspects of food service that help with member development like self confidence.”
First serving children, the center has now transitioned into an adult program. At any given time, the center’s 75 members work in up to five kitchens. Among other programs, students make the day’s lunch and serve it to their peers.
“At the end of the day they get to enjoy what they’ve done,” Wilson said. “They have the biggest smile when they know they helped someone.”
The members in Gateway to Learning’s program range in age from 19 to 58 with disabilities like Autism and Down Syndrome.
Six members will work in the café’s 2-year program. Baking the products and working the cash register are just two of the many daily tasks they’ll learn.
Most of the workers won’t be able to live on their own or hold jobs outside of the center; that’s why the concept aims to bring residents into the café.
“If we’re not going to bring them out there, we’ll bring the community to us,” Wilson said.
The Can-Do Café will have a soft opening April 15 for staff and parents, and host a grand opening for the rest of the community in May.
“They need me; I'm a good worker,” said another future café staffer. Lee, 52, makes soup and for the center and hopes to man the beverage section.
In the future, Wilson hopes the café at 4925 N. Lincoln Ave. can expand to serve the same sandwiches and soups to Lincoln Square that members make for lunch.