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This article was published 29/11/2014 (814 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Nolan Saunders enjoys cooking. A work experience stint at L'Arche Tova Café in Transcona as part of his studies at Kildonan East Collegiate was so positive for all parties involved the café hired him.
Today, the 21-year-old works at the café part time Monday to Friday, prepping meals and cooking on the grill.
"It's a lot of fun and I get to learn new things," said Saunders, who has autism. He added the other staff are a pleasure to work with. "I get motivated by them."
Saunders is one of seven members of the 10-person staff who have developmental disabilities. The café is a social enterprise started by L'Arche Winnipeg, one of more than 140 communities in 40 countries for people with intellectual disabilities.
L'Arche Tova Café opened its doors in April 2012 and was created as part of L'Arche's mandate "to make known the gifts of people with developmental disabilities."
Located at 119 Regent Ave. West and open Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the café has a full menu of meals, desserts and drinks. The café encourages the general public to interact with, and get to know, people with a disability in the hopes of building a more compassionate society.
Plans for the café were just starting when Jim Lapp became L'Arche Winnipeg's executive director five years ago. Although Lapp has been involved with L'Arche for 40 years, he was hesitant about the café at first. Not anymore.
"As it's evolved, I'm not at all hesitant," Lapp said. "I think this is a very good thing we're doing, and it's a fantastic way of living out our mission."
The restaurant business is a tough one. The café is subsidized so it can exist, but Lapp expects the café will have to be subsidized less and less as time goes on. More than 20,000 customers visited the café during its last fiscal year, some 2,000 more than the year before.
Creating a work environment where people with intellectual disabilities can develop skills, and an atmosphere where all feel welcome, is the focus.
"One woman who worked here told us this is the first place where people haven't yelled at (her) and called (her) stupid," Lapp said. "That is significant to us. We treat people well and with respect."
When L'Arche Winnipeg was planning the café, the organization used funding from United Way to do a feasibility study as well as create a business plan. United Way continues to support the café with an annual grant worth $20,000.
Lapp said he refers to L'Arche community members not as clients, but as friends. Over the past four decades, he has learned many lessons from his friends about forgiveness, acceptance and more.
"Internationally, L'Arche is saying again and again and again, we want to make known the gifts of people with developmental disabilities," Lapp said.
"People coming into the café and getting to meet people with developmental disabilities is a very good way of making their gifts known."