Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic young people living with disabilities have been learning life skills at a King Meadows cafe.
Cafe Next Door owners Brett and Vanessa Mitchell opened the cafe after seeing how their son, who has cerebral palsy and is now 30, struggled to find employment.
“The dream of the cafe came from [Brad] not getting work opportunities anywhere else,” Vanessa said.
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“We know a lot of people in the disability sector through Brad so we knew of their struggles as well.
“It is very hard for these guys to turn up with a resume anywhere.”
Now, they offer young people who have disabilities the opportunity to get experience while learning important life skills.
The cafe is purpose-built to cater for the people they train.
Participants learn how to make coffee, fold napkins, clear tables and other essential hospitality skills. They can also go on to obtain a certificate three in hospitality if they want to.
Some stay for an hour, some stay for six – it really all depends on how they cope with the environment, Vanessa said.
Over the four year period they have been operating the Mitchell’s have helped six young people move on to gain employment.
At the moment Cafe Next Door has 16 young people who participate in their training program, across a six day period.
Vanessa said the majority of those continued to come into the cafe to train during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
“We were encouraged by the National Disability Insurance Scheme to continue our program as much as we could,” she said.
“Because these guys have enough anxiety, mental health and things in their life that if their routine gets changed, it throws them for a six.
“So we were encouraged if we could to keep open.”
She said the cafe changed its business offerings in order to cater to the needs of their customers and the COVID restrictions.
Instead of helping run the cafe, participants helped them prepare meals for their elderly customers, Vanessa said.
“We started making evening meals for our elderly customers… and then we would hop in the car – we would cook and then we would deliver,” she said.
“That is how we got through COVID and how we kept our participants busy.”
Brett stressed the importance of maintaining routine for their participants.
“We all work through routine and that is their routine,” he said.
Participants Ashley, 24, Josh, 20, and Amelia, 16, whose last names have been withheld for privacy reasons, all said they enjoyed being able to gain some life skills.
Ashley, who also works at Blue Line Laundry, said he enjoyed being able to have some independence. He got excited about his role as the cafe’s dishwasher.
Josh on the other hand was much more pragmatic in his approach. He handles the cooking and hopes the training he has received at Next Door will help him get a job in the future.
Amelia jokingly said the reason she enjoyed coming to the cafe was the fact that she didn’t have to do much work.
The Mitchell’s are passionate about helping the people who come in for training.
“We love the opportunity of giving these guys something in their life,” Brett said.
“Whether it’s just [better] self esteem through being out in the public and communicating with different people other than their parents or their carers,” Vanessa added.
“Any slight bit of improvement is just amazing.”
They stressed the importance of community engagement with their participants.
“It is the acceptance of these guys in the community… we have very regular customers, we have customers who popped in [and] have never been here… and all of a sudden they are back the next week and their back the next week,” Vanessa said.
“People are extremely supportive of what we do.”
Vanessa said the cafe operated more like a community hub than a business.
“Virtually every customer who walks in we know their name,” she said.
“If we don’t know their name we certainly get to know it very quickly.”
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