Café offers service from students with special needs
CEBU CITY — “May I take your order?” Yasmin, 27, asked a customer who just entered the café on Ramos Street here.
“Your food will be served in 15 minutes. Please wait,” she said after taking her orders.
A few minutes later, Andrew, 26, arrived. “Here’s your order, Ma’am. Enjoy your meal.”
Yasmin and Andrew are not ordinary servers at Special Hands Café.
They are among the 20 students-staff at the café who have congenital disabilities, including autism. But Yasmin, who has Down Syndrome; and Andrew, who has developmental disability, do their tasks like regular workers — taking and serving orders, cooking food and even issuing bills.
Special Hands Café looks like a regular café with neatly arranged tables topped with brown and white cloth, white chairs and handmade arts and crafts displayed on a shelf.
But it is a project of Stages Center Inc., a school serving students with special needs for more than two decades now.
“We decided to open the café so our students will have venue for training,” said Marie Macasero, head of Stages Center. “Here, we can teach them how to work like other normal people do.”
The café, which opened on Aug. 17, offers sandwiches, pasta, cakes, chips and beverages. It caters to organizations, schools and the students’ families upon invitation.
Earnings go to the students, for their projects, for maintenance and for programs that benefit them, Macasero said.
“We always make sure that our students are ready when they work in the café, so we don’t open regularly,” she said. “We train them or do simulations for a week or two before letting them do the actual job.”
The café introduced students to the framework of a real workplace, with each student assigned to a specific task, depending on skill and talent.
Yasmin serves because she likes dealing with people.
Francis Niño, 30, who sits inside a white kiosk, could become the cashier for his writing and math skills.
Surprisingly, he has good penmanship, too.
Macasero said the students had shown eagerness to learn how to cook and serve. Some do kitchen chores, such as dishwashing.
“These students prepare the ingredients of all our food products and they cook them. They also prepare the drinks and everything we offer,” she said.
They are guided by the center’s teachers to avoid accidents, especially in the kitchen.
Aside from being an avenue for the students to deal with people, the café also offers a chance to catch a glimpse of how people with special needs act, talk and work.
Macasero said the center had been receiving positive feedback from organizations and schools whose staff members and students had dined in the café.
“It has even become a routine that after our customers eat, they ask for a group picture with the café staff, and we take that as a positive sign that our students did well,” she said.
Three architecture students from Cebu Institute of Technology-University were inspired by just looking at the café staff who served their sandwiches and juices.
“It really feels good to see that these people, even if they have limitations, are doing their best. I find it very touching,” said Mary Eunesse Montenegro, whose brother has special needs, too.
She and her two schoolmates are preparing a thesis on the appropriate forms and shapes of buildings and homes for people with special needs.
“After seeing the people here in Special Hands, we are getting more ideas on the outcome of our project,” Montenegro said. “And we want this project to be our contribution in helping these people have better living conditions.”
Stages Center is now coordinating with fast-food chains and hotels for the possible deployment of its students.
It also plans to tap the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for more intensive training for the students. It hopes that certificates the students get from the agency will help them get jobs.
“It is really our goal to let these students go out and be part of the working population,” Macasero said.
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