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It’s a “G” Thing: Harvest Cafe serves up a mission of training people with special needs

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“This is my favorite place to come to on Staten Island," Jean Ringhoff, a long-time customer, said.

The community loves the Harvest Cafe.

“Excellent food, we have a great chef here,” Joanne Baranello, another loyal customer, smiled.

And the Harvest Cafe loves the community right back. But this spot isn't just serving tasty food, they're serving a purpose.

“Our mantra here is plant, nurture and harvest," Diane Buglioli, deputy executive director, explained. "We plant the seed of possibility, you nurture it with a little assistance and then you get to watch the harvest."

Their mission, printed on the menu, aims to support and train those with special needs.

“What do you do here" I asked Joe D, one of the trainees. "Service area, sometimes, kitchen area sometimes," he replied.

“I work as a dishwasher and a porter,” Anthony C, another employee, said.

“I greet the people when they come in," Jeffrey M, said.

“Generally people with disabilities are helped but here they help others," Buglioli explained.

It's part of the non-profit, A Very Special Place, which empowers people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to lead fuller lives through various programs.

“[I like] meeting some people here, nice people,” Joe said.

“I love [coming to work],” Anthony smiled. “Just knowing that I’m really needed.”

A sense of worth and contribution, they don't always get.

“What is it that the general population misses when it comes to disabled folks,” I asked Diane. “I think they get blinded by the 'dis,' everyone has ability, people just have different abilities and I think the public has to start looking past that and they do it here.”

And the personal growth is noticeable.

“When I first started coming here, they didn’t even make eye contact with me and now they know me by name, they come over and shake my hand, they know what drink, they know this is my table,” Ringhoff said. “They can do anything an able person can do, and sometimes better.”

A skill set and confidence that can translate to any job.

"We've placed them into other food industry jobs," Buglioli said. "And others, for example, one person wanted to work in a supermarket."

They hope everyone stops seeing them as disabled, but as valuable employees.

“I don’t think anyone should be called disabled," Anthony said. “I think we just really need help.”

And my appetite was in need of some help

“Oh man this is really good!" I said as I ate Jean's potatoes. "Stop eating my food now!” she laughed.

While I eventually did stop, I know the Harvest Cafe will never stop making a difference.

“To just make a change in someone’s life, I mean that’s the privilege that we have,” Buglioli smiled.

 

Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi