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She knew her son and other people with disabilities had so much to give. So she opened a café to employ them.

Maureen Stanko always felt that her son, Nick, had so much to give. Nick is 20 years old and on the autism spectrum. Even though she knew he had so much to give, what he would do after graduation kept her mother up at night.

“I was lying in bed one night at 3 a.m. and I was like, ‘Oh man, what’s going to happen to him.’ You know? It feels like it’s going to happen, it feels like imminent now,” Stanko told CBS News.

In Pennsylvania, where they live, students with disabilities can stay in school until age 22. Stanko says many parents of children with disabilities have told him they are worried about their children’s futures.

“Actually, I remember a saying from my father: ‘When you have a problem, pray like hell, then get up and do something.’ And that’s when it dawned on me: There’s so much to give,” she said.

She expressed her concern to Nick’s therapist, Tyler Kammerle, who told her that he aimed to open a restaurant to employ people with disabilities. They teamed up with philanthropist Kathy Opperman to make that dream a reality, and about two years later, “so much to give” wasn’t just Stanko’s mantra anymore. It was a restaurant.

They opened the inclusive cafe So Much To Give in Cedars, Pennsylvania, in January 2023. They employ 63 people – 80% of employees are disabled – and work as greeters, food runners, sous chefs, dishwashers, crockery and waiters.

So Much To Give Inclusive Cafe in Cedars, Pennsylvania, employs 63 people, 80 percent of whom have disabilities.

CBS News

But the cafe isn’t just a place to work, it’s become a safe space where other disabled people can dine.

“We never even took Nick to a restaurant before this cafe opened. Because before, it wasn’t worth it. Because we were spending all this money going out to eat and being completely stressed out,” Stanko said. “This cafe taught Nick how to sit in a restaurant. Because now we have a place to go, where if he stands up and starts jumping like a rabbit or clapping or screaming, everyone cares.”

Maureen Stanko, her son Nick and her assistant at the So Much To Give cafe.

CBS News

At So Much To Give, we met Lauren Oppelts, who is hard of hearing and works at the cafe as a hostess and sign language teacher.

“I mean, if you asked me over a year ago, two years ago if I would be a hostess, a waiter, I wouldn’t believe you. Because I have so much confidence in myself,” he said. -she declared. “A lot of these employees I’ve known since the very beginning and the growth I see in them, it’s just mind-blowing.”

Lauren Oppelts and Kathy Opperman working at So Much To Give cafe.

CBS News

Stanko was unsure if Nick would be able to work at the cafe due to his disability and extreme food allergies. But he exceeded expectations and helped at the cafe before it opened, setting tables before diners arrived.

“I actually brought him here on Wednesday because his school was closed and he set up this whole room without me saying a word,” she said. “And the level of pride he felt was just incredible.”

Stanko didn’t stop at the cafe. His dream was to create a space to teach people with disabilities. So, across the street, she opened Inspiration Studio, teaching music, life skills, crafts and other classes for people with disabilities.

Stanko says she couldn’t have done it all without her team and the donors who helped make both spaces possible.

“I initially thought So Much To Give was about Nick and other people with different abilities,” she said. “And what I’ve learned throughout this process is that it’s not just about Nick and other people with disabilities. Everyone has so much to give.”

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