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A woman eating with her son and a three cafe employees holding plates of food.

The "So Much To Give Inclusive Cafe" in Cedars, PA employs 63 people – 80% have a disability

CBS News | CBS News
Uplifting News

Mom Is Worried What Son With Autism Will Do After Graduation - Comes Up With a Great Idea

So many expecting mothers are filled with just that — expectations.

Even if it doesn't feel like the best thing to admit, it makes sense. How can you grow a tiny human in your belly for 9 months and not have hopes and dreams for your little one? You wonder what color eyes they may have. Will they get your mother's hazel eyes or your husband's baby blues? You picture them setting off to college and you get choked up (and the umbilical chord's not even cut.)

We wonder, we picture, we play at the scenarios and more often than not, they come out completely unlike anything we imagined. But in the case of mother, Maureen Stanko, this statement could not be more true.

The Future Was Scary

When Maureen Stanko's son, Nick, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), she knew his life would look completely different than the one she envisioned, but she had no idea — hers would too.

Like so many first-time parents, Stanko had no idea just how difficult the road ahead could be after receiving his diagnos — but she also had no idea just how up for the challenge she really was.

"I actually remembered a saying that my father had: 'When you have a problem, pray like hell then get up off your knees and do something."

At 20, Nick Stanko was ready to take on the world...but the question still remained just how ready the world was to take on him. The mother-son duo reside in Pennsylvania, and thankfully the state has extenuating circumstances for children with disabilities. Students are welcomed to attend school until they are 22 years old, but after that, they're on their own.

Maureen believed in her son wholeheartedly, but that didn't stop her from worrying what he would do after graduating from the safe confines of school. She knew other parents with children in the same program felt the same.

Maureen knew she had to do something but she wasn't sure what. Then out of nowhere, lightning struck.

So Much To Give

A group of people, all wearing blue t-shirts and aprons.

So Much To Give Inclusive Cafe employees.

So Much To Give Inclusive Cafe PA / Facebook

Maureen Stanko's sleepless nights worrying about her son's future led her to a pivotal moment of clarity. In the quiet hours of the morning, she remembered her father's wise words: "When you have a problem, pray like hell then get up off your knees and do something." This mantra ignited a spark within her. She realized that Nick, and many others like him, had so much to give to the world, but they needed the right environment to flourish.

When Maureen shared her concerns with Nick's therapist, Tyler Kammerle, she found a kindred spirit. Tyler had long dreamed of creating a space where people with disabilities could work and thrive. Together, with the help of philanthropist Kathy Opperman, they turned this dream into reality. The result was the So Much To Give Inclusive Cafe, which opened its doors in January 2023 in Cedars, Pennsylvania.

The cafe was more than just a business venture; it was a mission. It employed 63 people, with 80% of the staff being individuals with disabilities. From greeters to food runners, sous chefs to dishwashers, everyone found a role that suited their abilities. The cafe quickly became a beacon of hope and a model for inclusivity.

A Place Where They Can Be Themselves

The So Much To Give Inclusive Cafe did more than just provide jobs; it created a safe and welcoming space for individuals with disabilities to be themselves. Maureen recalled how stressful it used to be to take Nick to a restaurant. The anxiety of being judged by others for Nick's behaviors often made dining out an impossible task. But at the cafe, Nick and others could express themselves freely without fear of criticism.

Lauren Oppelts, a hostess and sign language teacher at the cafe, shared how the experience had transformed her life. Being hearing impaired, she never imagined herself in a customer-facing role. Yet, working at the cafe had given her self-confidence and a sense of purpose. She watched her colleagues grow and thrive in ways she had never thought possible.

"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," she said. "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."

- Lauren Oppelts

Nick, despite his extreme food allergies and the challenges posed by his disability, found his place in the cafe. Maureen marveled at his dedication and the pride he took in his work. He helped set up the tables before the cafe opened, demonstrating a level of independence and responsibility that exceeded her expectations.

Inspiration From The Inspiration Studio

A sign with "Inspiration Studio" on it.

A sign with "Inspiration Studio" on it.

CBS News

The success of the So Much To Give Inclusive Cafe inspired Maureen to dream even bigger. Across the street from the cafe, she opened the Inspiration Studio, a space dedicated to teaching people with disabilities various life skills, crafts, and music. This studio became a hub for learning and personal growth, furthering the mission of inclusivity and empowerment.

Maureen's journey taught her that everyone has something valuable to offer. The cafe and the studio weren't just about providing opportunities for Nick and others with disabilities; they were about recognizing and nurturing the potential in everyone. Through determination, collaboration, and a belief in the inherent worth of every individual, Maureen Stanko created a community where everyone truly has so much to give.

This story is a testament to the power of a mother's love, the strength of community, and the incredible potential that lies within every person, regardless of their abilities. It reminds us that with the right support and opportunities, everyone can shine.

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