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

Mom opens cafe for people with disabilities
Mom opens cafe to employ people with disabilities 03:24

Maureen Stanko always felt her son, Nick, had so much to give. Nick is 20 and is on the autism spectrum and despite her knowing he had so much to give, what he would do after graduation kept his mom up at night.

"I was lying in bed one night at 3 a.m. I was thinking about, 'Oh man, what's going to happen to him.' You know? It's like it's coming, it's like impending now," Stanko told CBS News.

In Pennsylvania, where they live, students with disabilities can stay in school until they are 22 years old. Stanko says she's heard from many parents of kids with disabilities that they worry about their kids' futures. 

"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.' And that's when it popped in my head: So much to give," she said.

She brought her worry to Nick's therapist, Tyler Kammerle, who told her he had a goal of opening 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" was no longer just Stanko's mantra. It was a restaurant.

They opened the So Much To Give Inclusive Cafe in Cedars, Pennsylvania in January 2023. They employ 63 people — 80% of employees have a disability – and they work as greeters, food runners, sous chefs, dishwashers and servers. 

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

But the cafe is not only a place to work, it's become a safe space for others with disabilities to dine.

"We never even took Nick to a restaurant before this cafe opened. Because when we used to it wasn't worth it. Because we would spend all this money to go out to eat to be completely stressed out," Stanko said. "This cafe has taught Nick how to sit in a restaurant. Because now we have a place to go, where if he stands up and starts hopping like a bunny or clapping or yelling, nobody cares."

Maureen Stanko, her son Nick and his aide at the So Much To Give cafe. CBS News

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

"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 and Kathy Opperman working at the So Much To Give cafe. CBS News

Stanko didn't know if Nick would be able to work at the cafe because of his disability and extreme food allergies. But he's exceeded her expectations and helps out at the cafe before it opens, setting up the tables before diners arrive.

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

Stanko didn't stop at the cafe. Her dream was to create a space to teach people with disabilities. So, across the street, she opened up the Inspiration Studio, where they teach 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 of the spaces possible.

"I did originally think that So Much To Give was all about Nick and others with different abilities," she said. "And what I've learned through this whole process is that it's not just about Nick and other people with disabilities. Everybody has so much to give."

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