Pastries for a purpose: 4 Chicagoland bakeries and cafes supporting the disabled community

When Joan Hallagan’s son William, who has physical and intellectual disabilities, was aging out of his high school vocational training program, she was worried about his future. At 22 years old, many disabled adults are left to fend for themselves, and according to a 2022 Bureau of Labor Statistics figure, only about 21% of disabled people are employed.

To address this issue, Hallagan and her sister Cathy Maassen opened Will’s Place, a nonprofit cafe that employs people with disabilities. William works at the cafe several days a week, helping in the kitchen and interacting with customers. The cafe not only provides much-needed employment opportunities for the disabled community, but also fosters a sense of community and belonging.

Other initiatives, such as Gateway to Learning and Dorothy’s Sweet Shoppe, have also been established to provide learning and job opportunities for disabled individuals. These cafes and bakeries not only raise awareness about disability unemployment, but also offer a chance for participants to develop valuable skills and build relationships.

Similarly, Brewing Opportunities and Gerry’s Café, named after a woman with Down syndrome, aim to provide employment and life skills training for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The café serves a variety of breakfast and lunch items and espresso drinks, employing over 40 individuals with disabilities in various positions.

Misericordia, dating back to 1921, offers residential services and recreational programming to over 600 children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. In April 2022, they opened Hearts & Flour Bakery and Cafe to provide residents with opportunities to work and engage with the community.

Most recently, a nonprofit cafe named Will’s Place has opened in Skokie, employing 17 young adults with disabilities. The cafe is open five days a week serving breakfast and lunch, and hosts special events with guest celebrity baristas.

These initiatives are not only providing valuable employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, but also creating an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive. Visitors are encouraged to support these establishments and help contribute to their mission.

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