A Café Employing Disabled Adults, Offers Hope to Dozens in the Special Needs Community

In honor of Disabilities Awareness Month, we talked with our very own Patricia Nelson to highlight a cause near and dear to her; No Limits Cafe —a lunch café that empowers adults with intellectual disabilities by providing jobs and job training to help them lead fulfilling lives in their community.

1. Tell us about No Limits Cafe

No Limits Cafe, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization is a lunch cafe employing 33 adults with Intellectual Disabilities. Our mission is to empower adults with intellectual disabilities by providing jobs and job training to help them lead fulfilling lives within our community and increase awareness of their potential. They do everything at the restaurant because they can.

The original goal was to open the restaurant in January 2020 and then start evening workshops to train additional adults with Intellectual Disabilities to work in the restaurant industry. We had three restaurants interested in our graduates before we even opened. However, Covid-19 has put those plans on hold for now.

No Limits Cafe is a happy place. Each day starts with a song picked out by one of the employees along with a dance party where all employees participate and sometime even patrons. It has been an amazing experience to watch the nervous employees on their first day of work to now. The smiles and confidence they show is contagious. They are so proud to have a job and meaningful work.

Oh, and the food is great! We serve soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts, and other options for health-conscious individuals.

2. What is your role with No Limits Café? What attracted you to this cause?

I am a trustee of the Board of Directors for No Limits Cafe. As a board member I have a fiduciary responsibility to the charity, develop directional strategy, set goals and objectives as well as support fundraising programs. I developed the No Limits Cafe (https://www.nolimitcafe.org) website and manage technology direction for the Cafe. I also volunteer at the restaurant and work on fundraising events such as the “Help for Hunger” Program and annual golf outing.

I became involved in the No Limits Cafe supporting the vision of one of my best friends, Stephanie Cartier. Stephanie and Mark Cartier have a daughter Katie (age 22) with Down Syndrome and they were concerned about Katies future. They watched a news show on NBC in 2017 about Hugs Cafe, a restaurant employing individuals with intellectual disabilities in Texas that was the catalyst for starting The No Limits Cafe.

I have been involved since the inception, from looking at possible locations, choosing a name, advising on construction and design plans, developing HR procedures/manuals and training documentation. At No Limits Cafe we all pitch in when needed.

3. What are the challenges these adults face? How does the café help them overcome these challenges?

As children with disabilities age into adulthood, their education and programs end which is referred to as “falling off the cliff.” Socialization is gone once they “fall off the cliff”– working with their peers gives them much needed social skills.

80% of people with Intellectual Disabilities are NOT employed. Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities want to work as much as the general population. Many of those that are employed, are paid below minimum wage because they work in state or federally sheltered workshops.

The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations portrays that people with Intellectual Disabilities are unable to do basic things – we have to give an employee the opportunity to try before we assume they cannot do the job.

No Limits Cafe: Quick Facts

  • We provide 33 employees a meaningful and rewarding job opportunity. The skills they are learning at the restaurant can be used at other jobs in the future.
  • All employees are encouraged to work in different parts of the restaurant. One young man only wanted to do dishwashing, after six months he finally said he would try working in the kitchen and loved it.
  • The design of the restaurant goes above and beyond ADA compliance. We have lower food pass thru countertops and an extended handwashing sink to make it possible for employees in wheelchairs or vertically challenged to work.
  • We have cutting gloves to teach knife skills safely.
  • A special education teacher converted all the recipes into a format that all employee with Intellectual Disabilities can use even if they cannot read.
  • Food is delivered to the table using serving carts rather than trays to support the employees with coordination issues.
  • Employees have a break area where they can socialize – it is wonderful to see them create friendships.
  • We have volunteers in all areas of the restaurant to support the employees. The volunteers reinforce the training the employees received and encourage the employees to solve the day-to-day work problems.

4. What do you think people should know about adults with developmental disabilities?

They are people! They can do everything you and I can do but may need a little more time or guidance to get there. They want to have an independent life and have the same wants and dreams as all of us. The first big purchase by one of our employees after saving his paychecks for many months was a John Deere mower.

I challenge you to welcome people with Intellectual Disabilities into your lives and see the world through a different lens.

5. How can people support this cause?

Donate – We have an amazing fundraiser “Help for Hunger” going on now. In December of 2020, we were gifted $30,000 from Marcus Lemonis’ Lemon-Aid Foundation and their Plating Change program. The program was created to help keep restaurants afloat during the pandemic, while helping communities deal with food insecurity. In addition, it enabled us to keep our employees working and learning new skills. For 10 weeks, we feed members of the community that may have otherwise gone hungry. This program has been SO successful that we want it to continue for as long possible. People can donate anywhere from one meal to one month of meals.

Volunteer – We have a volunteer list that is updated on website on Sunday for the following week. You don’t need any restaurant experience to volunteer. The focus of all volunteers is to support the staff during their shift. We ask all volunteers to focus on positive verbal instructions to the staff in an effort to reinforce the protocol established during training. We train volunteers on how they should support the staff and various work stations.

Spread the word – if you are near Middletown, NJ come in for lunch! It will be a rewarding experience and a delicious meal! On the website, in the “About Us” section, we list other organizations that have a similar mission – maybe one of them is closer to you.

Give an adult with Intellectual Disabilities an opportunity!