Culinary school helps adults with disabilities thrive in the workforce

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 8:50 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Heather Horvath is one of 300 students at Arc of the Bay and one of around 30 in the program’s culinary institute. It teaches adults with disabilities how to work in the food industry and then helps them get a job in the field.

“I help run the cafe here. I do the cash register, I make the coffee, the frappuccino machines, and all that. I keep my station clean and all that,” said Heather.

Heather graduated from the institute and is now working at Inklusion Coffee Shop. It’s a new coffee shop in the Student Center at Gulf Coast State College. The coffee shop was started by the Arc of the Bay thanks to a grant from CareerSource Gulf Coast. Heather is a barista, she has been doing it for about a month, making everything from lattes to fraps.

“I have never made one before I started, I’m a fast learner,” said Heather.

Ron Sharpe was checking in on things on Monday. He is the Executive Director for the Arc of the Bay. It has been a dream of his to get the program up and rolling. After some bumps in the road because of the pandemic, the Inklusion Coffee Shop and Empowerment Café next door are now open for business.

“So it is giving them a chance to get what they learned in class now put into real-life work experiences,” said Sharpe.

The coffee shop and café serve more than 2,500 students and around 300 staff members at Gulf Coast State College.

“We knew that there was a niche that we would be able to hopefully help fill the void and our folks with special needs that would want to get into this field and learn about culinary arts,” said Sharpe.

Students learn valuable skills at the culinary institute and earn a paycheck.

“Oh I love it a lot,” said Heather.

Heather is cooking up more. She has dreams of starting her own business.

“Eventually want to own my own bakery that deals with peoples’ allergies.”

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