Pennsylvania Mom started this Cafe as a Secure and Inclusive Space

The So Much to Give program gives people with differing abilities a chance to shine.

May 10, 2024
Pennsylvania Mom started this Cafe as a Secure and Inclusive Space | The So Much to Give program gives people with differing abilities a chance to shine.

In Cedars, Pennsylvania, a cafe is giving people with different abilities, and their families a safe and inclusive space to shine. Created in 2022, the cafe was a response to the need in the community for programs that would enable special needs youth who aged out of school programs to develop social and vocational skills in a nurturing environment, according to ABC7 Chicago.

Creating the So Much To Give Inclusive Cafe 
The cafe was the brainchild of Pennsylvania mom Maureen Stanko, a teacher, fitness instructor, and musician, who was concerned about her son Nick, who is neurodivergent and on the autism spectrum, and what he would be able to do after graduation. In Pennsylvania, students with disabilities can stay in school until age 22, but worrying about the day after is what was keeping Stanko up at night, reported CBS News.

“I was lying in bed one night at 3 am.  I was thinking about, ‘Oh man, what's going to happen to him.’ You know? It's like it's coming, it's like impending now,” Stanko told CBS News.

Stanko was so worried that she spoke to Nick’s therapist, Tyler Kammerle, who told her that he dreamed about opening a restaurant to employ people with disabilities. The two worked together – in  association with the Pillars of Love and Light Charity –  to make this a reality. Two years later, the So Much To Give Inclusive Cafe  was born.

The official opening was January 2023 but there was a soft opening earlier to train the staff of 63 people where 80 percent of them have some form of disability, as greeters, servers, sous chefs, and dishwashers. But the cafe is more than just a save space to work, it is a place for people with disabilities and their families to dine.

“We never even took Nick to a restaurant before this cafe opened. Because when we used to it wasn't worth it. Because we would spend all this money to go out to eat to be completely stressed out,” Stanko said. “This cafe has taught Nick how to sit in a restaurant. Because now we have a place to go, where if he stands up and starts hopping like a bunny or clapping or yelling, nobody cares.”

A life changing place
The inclusive cafe has made a real difference in people’s lives. One of the staff, Lauren Oppelts, is hearing impaired and works as a hostess at the café and as a sign language instructor. She said: “I mean, if you would ask me over a year ago, two years ago that I would be a hostess, a server, I wouldn't believe you. Because I have grown so much self-confidence. A lot of these employees I've known since the very, very beginning and the growth I see in them, it's just mind-blowing.”

Stanko did not know if her son Nick would be able to work at the cafe because he has food allergies but he is able to work setting up the tables before diners arrive. He has exceeded his mom’s expectations.

But the cafe is much more than just a workplace. Stanko also wanted to create a space to teach life skills to people with disabilities. That’s why she also opened the Inspiration Studio where music, crafts, and other courses are taught in addition to life skills. The studio is located across the street from the cafe.

“I did originally think that So Much To Give was all about Nick and others with different abilities,” Stanko said. “And what I've learned through this whole process is that it's not just about Nick and other people with disabilities. Everybody has so much to give.”

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.