Select Board Endorses Cafe To Employ Residents With Disabilities

by William F. Galvin
Shana Grogan (left) and Pauline Linnell make a presentation to the select board Monday aimed at establishing a Special Friends Cafe providing employment opportunities to residents with disabilities. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO Shana Grogan (left) and Pauline Linnell make a presentation to the select board Monday aimed at establishing a Special Friends Cafe providing employment opportunities to residents with disabilities. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – The select board was supportive Monday night of a proposal that would provide employment for residents with physical and intellectual disabilities in a coffee shop with a welcoming and inclusive environment.

The Special Friends Cafe would employ young adults with different abilities resulting from autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other intellectual disabilities. The cafe will serve food and beverages and provide a community hub that raises awareness and acceptance while fostering an understanding about the abilities and contributions of people with disabilities.

The presentation was made by Shana Grogan, who teaches individuals with moderate and severe disabilities in the Monomoy Regional School District. Grogan is also a certified autism fitness trainer who operates Special Abilities Fitness in Harwich Port, working with more than 20 athletes.

“By opening the cafe, I aim to provide a supportive and inclusive workplace where individuals with special needs can gain valuable job experience, build confidence and feel a sense of accomplishment,” Grogan said. “This isn’t just about offering jobs, it’s about creating a space where everyone is valued for their unique contributions. I believe this initiative will not only enrich the lives of our employees but also foster a more inclusive and understanding community.”

Grogan is partnering with Pauline Linnell, a teacher in the community since 2018, whose daughter, Stella, is autistic.

The mission, Linnell said, is for young adults to “live a meaningful life like the rest of us, to provide employment for adults with intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities in a welcoming and inclusive environment.”

Select Board member Jeffrey Handler said that after meeting with the two proponents and learning about the initiative he requested the proposal be placed before the select board. He referred to the proponents as heroes and said he loved the idea and wanted to help out.

The presentation before the board was backed by a room full of supporters. Handler said he also received 27 letters of support for the cafe.

Linnell said statistics show that only 19 percent of adults with developmental disabilities are employed in a competitive job. Adults with disabilities lose their school-based and financial support when they turn 22, and it is like “falling into a black hole,” Linnell said. Another parent said being cut off from financial support is like “falling off a cliff, there’s not much support on the other side.”

“The plan is to educate the public one cup of coffee at a time,” said Grogan. “We’ll provide the support and the training.”

Grogan has assembled a 40-page document detailing the project. She added that many of the young adults have art talents and their work could be displayed and sold at the cafe.

Michelle Canto said she has a 22-year-old son with autism and she praised the Monomoy school district’s support for him, allowing him to dream he could go to college. The 2022 high school graduate received a college associates degree in business and a certificate in media and web design, she said.

“But now what?” She said. “Interviews are anxiety provoking and he is often overlooked and not supported by employers. By creating opportunities like this we can provide opportunities for all of them. [Grogan] never gives up, she’s always thinking outside the box and like most of her kids, they don’t fit in a box.”

Tracey Fraser, former director of Cape Abilities Farm, said from a business perspective, there are benefits to communities from societal entrepreneurships driven by mission in addition to profit.

“Social entrepreneurships create value by addressing the societal challenges we face,” Fraser said.

Harwich Center resident Megan Smith said her nephew battles disabilities; he went to the Riverview School in Sandwich and after graduating began working in a coffee shop there. It was the best opportunity he could have had as he was appreciated and was not looked at as being different, but rather as a hard-working member of the staff.

Grogan said the plan is for the Special Friends Cafe to file for 501K nonprofit status.

Police Chief Kevin Considine, who is the country representative to the Special Olympics, said he has worked with Grogan for years on the Special Olympics and praised her commitment.

“Personally, I’ve thought for a number of years we didn’t have enough of this. Thank you,” Considine said.

Select Board member Donald Howell wanted to know what the next steps will be for the project.

Grogan said help and guidance will be needed in working with boards and committees and developing a better understanding of labor laws.

“We’re going into this with our hearts…and there may be questions we might not have the answers to, but we will research and persevere,” Grogan said.

Handler said a private space or one of the two town kitchens will be investigated. There is kitchen space at 204 Sisson and at the community center.

“We can help you develop a map and help you to navigate,” said Howell.

Town Administrator Joseph Powers said the kitchen at the cultural center needs work. He supported the idea and said he would help try to make it happen.

Select Board member Michael MacAskill said the town was given kitchen equipment when the Cape Tech school building was demolished. He also said there is funding in the capital plan to address the 204 kitchen in 2026, but he added that there are funds in a revolving account that can help get the project moving.

“We can’t thank you enough for the presentation. It’s wonderful, the children of our community are not always taken care of,” said Select Board Chair Julie Kavanagh.

Handler said the board would see to it that the proponents get the support to turn their ideas into reality.

“It is not a normal thing the community and town is doing, but I will support you all the way,” Handler said.

The board instructed Powers to work with the proponents. MacAskill requested that Powers return to the board in two weeks with a progress report.