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Cedar co-operative offers opportunities

Sarah Cubbage, left, a support worker/chef at the COCO Café, shows employee Sarah Gilbert how to make a latté. - Jenn McGarrigle/The News Bulletin
Sarah Cubbage, left, a support worker/chef at the COCO Café, shows employee Sarah Gilbert how to make a latté.
— image credit: Jenn McGarrigle/The News Bulletin

A co-operative business in Cedar is serving up unique employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.

The café on Cedar Road, run by the Cedar Opportunities Co-operative, opened at the beginning of June after months of intensive fundraising by its stakeholder families and a healthy dollop of community support.

Staff make a range of breakfast and lunch foods, baked goodies, specialty coffee drinks and fruit smoothies.

Some employees need the help of a support worker and all staff get an opportunity to try out different jobs in the café, from baking and sandwich preparation to working the espresso machine and taking orders from customers.

"Everybody has different abilities," said manager Sandra Marquis. "Some people work shorter shifts and some work longer. Just having the opportunity to try different things I think is important."

To make work easier for people of all different abilities, everything is labelled and colour-coded.

The fruits that go in different smoothies are individually bagged so staff can simply reach into the fridge and grab what is needed without having to cut up or measure ingredients.

Workers can use frozen espresso cubes to make the coffee and the touch-screen cash register includes the pictures of items people are ordering.

"There's really no task that someone can't do, you just have to split it up different ways," said Sydni Dines, a support worker and barista.

One girl makes smoothies, but needs help to lift the jug onto the machine. Another worker comes in at the end of each day to put the chairs on the tables, sweep the floor and empty the garbage. Yet another worker makes baked goods in the mornings with a support worker, who measures out the ingredients.

What is unique about COCO Café is that the business creates jobs based on the interests and abilities of each employee, said Dines.

"We make everything work," she said. "I don't think there's anything like this."

Sarah Gilbert, 18, who struggles with math and has trouble multi-tasking, is grateful for the chance to gain work experience at the café. Before she started work at the café in the summer, she had tried for a short time to find employment elsewhere.

"The first paycheque was $26, but I was so happy," said Gilbert, who performs a myriad of tasks at the café, from washing dishes and clearing off tables to working the cash register, making lattés and smoothies and helping out in the kitchen.

"This place gives people a chance to show what they can do," she said.

The other employees and customers are friendly, welcoming and encouraging, added Gilbert.

The cooperative was created about five years ago as a result of discussions five families had during picnics and other social occasions.

The families were frustrated by the lack of gathering places, programs and jobs for their children in the Cedar area.

For more information or to become a member, please go to www.cedaropportunities.coop.

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