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Posted on 02/01/2018

Developing Work Opportunities for Youth with Special Needs-It’s All About The People!

Developing Work Opportunities for Youth with Special Needs-It’s All About The People!

Individuals with disabilities are finding new opportunities in the business world. Many are being hired by employers who realize that they can become valuable employees. Some are also forging their own path into the world of entrepreneurship. All are discovering new skills and developing their business sense as well as an expanded sense of self.

From theatres, to restaurants, to greeting cards to garden products, we’ve recently noticed a growing number of innovative and heartwarming stories on the internet that caught our attention and we wanted to share them with our community.

A four-screen, first-run movie theater in Ridgefield, Connecticut, Prospector Theater, employs mostly disabled people. It’s founder saved a former playhouse and library from demolition.  It is completely renovated and  now employs individuals with disabilities, referred to as Prospects, and provides them with opportunities to gain valuable work experience, social skills, and self-confidence.

Hugs Café is a non-profit restaurant in McKinney, Texas, that was founded with the express intent of providing a place for those with disabilities to work and learn. Ruth Thompson founded the restaurant with a vision “to create a non-profit café that would be run and operated primarily by special needs adults.” The café has been featured on NBC Nightly News as a place that gives its employees a sense of purpose and its customers a hug and a great meal. Owner Ruth Thompson says that nobody has ever walked out of the restaurant in a bad mood!

Tom Landis is also making the news in Texas. His Dallas restaurant, Texadelphia, employs a number of individuals with special needs. He has also opened up an ice cream shop, Howdy Homemade Ice Cream, hoping to “change the way the world looks at everyone.” Landis says that he has learned over the years that “the restaurant business is not about food — it’s about people” and that his employees are all skilled and loyal.

Harvest Café, on Staten Island, New York, is run by a non-profit that provides programs and services for individuals with developmental disabilities.  Their restaurant provides vocational training in the food service industry for adults with special needs.

Plantables, in Hudson, Wisconsin provides employment for adults with special needs. Their mission, according to their website, is to provide employment and training to individuals with disabilities and take care of our environment “producing high quality seed-embedded products, made from sustainable materials, that will attract beneficial insects as well as enhance any garden.” If you aren’t a Hudson local, you can support them through their online store where you can purchase greeting cards, seed bombs, bird seed wreaths, and garden boxes.

Other individuals with disabilities have made the news by launching their own businesses. 

On the other side of the country from the Texas restaurants, Collette Divitto is enjoying the taste of success with her cookie business. Collettey’s was started in Collette’s north Boston apartment because she “loved to bake and it was a fun hobby.” Collette has Down Syndrome and was growing frustrated when she was constantly being turned down for jobs. She opened her own business, with her parents’ encouragement, to show everyone how able she truly is. Her website says she is not only “determined to show everyone how capable people with (dis) abilities are, but her mission is to open production facilities across the country and employ thousands of (dis) abled people!”

In 2010 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tim, a young man with Down Syndrome, and his family, opened their own restaurant Tim’s Place (also known by many as the “World’s Friendliest Restaurant.”) Here you will find breakfast, lunch and dinner, with lots of smiles and a hug from Tim.

Individuals with disabilities are making the news as successful business people - as are the employers who are excited about hiring them. Entrepreneurship is also certainly a trending option for those who are unable to find employers like Ruth Thompson or Tom Landis. As Tom Landis found, it’s all about the people!

Maybe you have a special needs youth and an idea for a business that would train and hire individuals with disabilities and you’re wondering how to get started.  You can contact your state’s vocational rehabilitation program and ask about supported self-employment resources.

If you happen to be in the area, go by and support these local businesses. 



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