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Snapshot NY: Special Cafe Creates Menu Of Opportunities For Staff

STATEN ISLAND (CBSNewYork) -- These very special trainees are on the move.

Harvest Cafe is part of a non-profit group helping people with developmental disabilities. Working alongside their able-bodied counterparts, these special trainees are given a chance few workspaces offer.

For example, take Percy Llewellyn telling CBS2's Steve Overmyer about having ownership over his food prep duties.

"I'm cutting the scallions so the chef can prepare this for the meal on Friday night," he said. "I give this place two thumbs up because this place is so rockin."

Just like any other employee, when their role matches their skill, they thrive.

George Manassa is training to become a waiter, giving him new experiences through the cafe: "Talking to nice friendly customers, like 'Hi how are you?' and then I take the drink order."

A year ago, meeting Manassa would have found a different man.

"You would've met someone who is not outgoing or self assured," said Diane Buglioli, director of A Very Special Place. The program has become a fixture of the neighborhood.

"What's so special is the community is so involved," she said. "The customers who come in are part of the whole project."

Trainees from Harvest Cafe have gone on to work at 15 different restaurants on Staten Island. Soon, Manassa will be just like many trainees that have come before him: Ready to join the real workforce.

How does it make the staff feel when they get cash at the end of the week after working so hard?

"Happy!" said Danielle Rutuelo, who works as a greeter. "I'm so glad. I'm like 'Money in my pocket!'"

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15 percent of the developmentally disabled are employed. That number is growing because business wants employees who are kind, work hard and responsible enough to be on time.

"I'm here every day on time," beamed greeter Brianna Gaglia.

Confident trainees are forging their own path to success. While everyone wants their independence, for some that step is a bigger challenge that's just as empowering.

"I can do my own things, do the dishes, make my own bed, stuff like that," said cafe dishwasher Cortney Cannatella. "Sometimes I needed a little bit of help, (now) I don't need that much help."

"Disability? I don't really like the word," said Buglioli. "Take the 'dis' out and see people for their ability and who they are, not if they talk slower or walk a little crooked. It doesn't introduce you to the person you're meeting.

"Look through all that, and I think you'll find some wonderful people that as a state, and as a nation, should be giving them the opportunities to live full lives," she said.

"I hope they learn who I am and take an interest, and see everybody in a different light," said cafe worker Drake Watkins.

Currently there is a waiting list of 35 potential trainees hoping to join the Harvest Cafe program.

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