Education Matters: 'Kids Cafe' helping students with special needs gain restaurant skills

FRESNO, California - It was a year ago that the office of the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools opened a business called the Kids Café.

This unique business enterprise is transforming the lives of young adults with special needs. The café was designed to give adults with special needs the skills needed to land a job and live an independent life.

The café is doing just that, while at the same time becoming a thriving downtown business.

21 year old Jamie Murphy operates the cash register at the Kids Café. To the average customer this may not seem out of the ordinary…but for those who know Jamie, a special needs student in the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Adult Transition program…this is a big deal.

"It makes me feel happy because at first I was shy and I wasn't no more," said Jamie Murphy. 

It was a year ago this January that the Kid's Café opened its doors. The café is a business started by the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools designed to give the county's special needs adult students work experience.

 It warms my heart to see what's happened to our young men and women who work here.  I think it's restored a lot of community support and awareness around kids with special needs," stated Jim Yovino with the Superintendent of Schools.

Café manager Paul Romero says when it comes to measuring just how well the restaurant is doing..he looks at the students who work there. He says a year ago Jamie was so shy she wouldn't look at you, would cover her face. 

"To see her growth and see the growth of our other students I think is our biggest measure, we've come along way with food, we've come along way with being known in the Fulton Mall, but the biggest way we have come is with our students growing from where they were in the beginning to where they are now," said cafe manager Paul Romero. 

The students help prepare the food, use utensils like knives they can cook without burning themselves. A deaf student uses sign language to communicate in the kitchen and does just fine. And they've learned one of the basics of being a good employee..customer service

"Its  looking at, how can we teach them those skills to get a job. They want to get a job just like all of us and be a productive part of their community and to give back to the community. I think that has been one of the things that has just been amazing is to see the public and the community outreach," said special education administrator Trina Frazier.  

The Kids Café as a business is thriving, located on the Fulton mall, it weathered the mall renovation with loyal downtown customer--employees from the sheriffs department, courthouse and county office of education are regulars.  

"Our most popular thing at our restaurant are our soups, our poblano chowder everyone mention how good our chowder is, but our sandwiches are great too."

And don't forget those homemade potato chips.

Program Manager Leah Spate says they are always looking for new opportunities for the restaurant and students.

"So since we have opened about a year ago we have been trying to add new things all along. We have quite the business plan," said Spate. 

Students offer a morning delivery service, they load up a cart with coffee and breakfast patties and deliver to the county office…their goal is to have them deliver to other businesses.

"I think it is definitely important for the community to see that they can do work that everybody else can do and that they are capable and they are some of the best workers I have ever seen," Spate mentioned. 

Spate says she hopes the exposure will encourage other's in the restaurant business to hire students with special needs, they can do the work. Jamie says she knows where she wants to work when she graduates from the program

"I was hoping to come back to here because like, once you work at the Kids Café it has touched your heart," said Jamie. 

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