Local programs prepare people with developmental differences for employment


MEDINA, Ohio – Fostering independence for people with developmental differences is the goal of many programs and organizations across the country, including right here in Northeast Ohio, where many programs are dedicated to that. Although the main objective is to help establish independence, the outcome of the programs can help local businesses in a context of persistent labor shortages.

To Spokes Cafe in Medinapeople with developmental differences run the store, taking orders, making drinks and everything in between.

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“It’s just a safe environment where they can come in and explore different opportunities,” said Rachel Green of Spokes Cafe. “Working on the cash register that is their money, counting money, working in our espresso bar, learning how to make everyone’s favorite lattes and coffees… We also have our consumers here who help us come up with ideas different lattes that we can put on for our drink of the week or a special bakery item, we’re like one big team here.”

Green works with individuals on the shop floor to understand the skills they need to grow and develop and to give them confidence in their work.

“We give them that confidence and it’s great to see someone say ‘Oh I can’t count money’, but in our ‘dayhab’ we practice those money counting skills – and we’re doing it month after month, all of a sudden they’re volunteering like, ‘oh, we’re going to count the drawer,” Green said. “So we’re giving them a comfortable place to be themselves and help them build on themselves.

Spokes Cafe Justin and Sydney

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While Justin worked as the barista for the day and Sydney handled the cash register, Spokes Cafe served cups of coffee throughout the morning in an environment full of teamwork and fun. But the fun employees have every day also accompanies the important lessons they leave the cafe with.

“I get parallel texts from parents who are like, ‘What! “I can’t even ask my kid to mop the floor at home, he’s mopping there and he seems to love it,” Green said. “I think they just feel more independent and they work for it instead of being told, so it’s different and they make money – they’re proud, again, of being hard workers.”

That hard work is something Courtney Gebura, transition coordinator at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Lerner School for Autism, thinks more companies could benefit from if they gave more opportunities to people with developmental differences.

“I think as a culture and companies are looking at who are the people who can do these jobs … and now with the pandemic with us really going off the grid with our thinking and our job descriptions, why not aren’t we looking at perhaps a diverse population that has the abilities to complete this work? said Gebura.

Abilities learned through programs like Spokes Cafe, and even Witzi’s Raw Granola, a local business started by a mother whose son has autism and struggled with health issues early in life.

Amy Witzigreuter

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“The inspiration came from my son, who had many health issues as a baby,” said Amy Witzigreuter, owner of Witzi’s Raw Granola. “I learned early on that soaking nuts, grains and seeds made them easier to digest, so I really started.”

But as Witzigreuter continued her business, she realized the potential she could have in helping her son Paul with his developmental differences.

“As your kids get older and start approaching the time they have to leave a school program, it’s very concerning what they’re going to do,” Witzigreuter said. “That’s kind of part of what Witzi can do is help students with autism practice different job skills that maybe could lead to a job one day.”

Paul Witzigrueter's Granola Job

Cleveland Clinic

Witzigreuter has Paul and some of his classmates at the Lerner School for Autism working alongside him, learning skills they can use later as they explore work opportunities of their choosing.

“Maybe they love this job and it leads to work that they’re really passionate about later on,” Witzigreuter said.

Gruber hopes that more companies will increase their employment inclusion, as this could benefit not only people with developmental differences seeking employment, but also the companies themselves.

“I think we can look at companies and try to talk with companies and coordinate with them the skills that not only our students have, but also all people with disabilities, that can benefit companies as a whole and their companies” , said Gebura.

In the meantime, Spokes Cafe understands that programs like this succeed when employees leave for new opportunities.

“We just had someone recently leave us and everyone was really sad, but then we talked about the quality, that’s why we’re here, that’s what we do, that’s is what we rely on,” Green said. “It’s so bittersweet because they become your family and you love and love having them here, but obviously you want the best for them. They start showing interest or their parents start showing interest. interest because they’re like, ‘Wow, they’ve made all these changes, they’re growing up’ and that’s great.'”

Ray coffee

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Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.

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