For the month of March (also known as Irish American Heritage Month) IrishCentral is tapping into the heartbeat of the Irish American community. The Unsung Heroes series features inspiring individuals from across the US who do extraordinary work in their communities and respective fields. From advocates to artists, from local legends to dedicated educators, from a high school baseball team to dynamo nuns in their 80s, these people are making a difference and to them we tip our hats in thanks.
For adults with disabilities, day-to-day life can be incredibly isolating. Many want a role to play, a purpose, a job to do, but across America opportunities are all too few and far between.
No one understands this better than Kathleen Foley-Hughes. As the mother of four children, one of whom, Charlie, now 25, was born with developmental disabilities. She often wondered what the future would hold for her son and the classmates and friends he made over the years.
An experienced events planner, fundraiser and caterer, Foley-Hughes decided to take matters into her own hands. Just over 10 years ago, upon realizing that her local school district in Palo Alto, CA was completely lacking in vocational programs for special education students, she resolved to start a café at Treman Middle School.
Thus began Treman’s Tasty Treats Café. Foley-Hughes created detailed special instructions in food preparation and clean-up, dealing with customers and handling money, and the special education students set to work in a safe, friendly environment. A similar venture, called Gunn Gourmet Café at Gunn High School, followed, and in 2008 Foley-Hughes founded the non-profit Ada’s Café.
Currently a catering service with a permanent restaurant location in the works, Ada’s Café gives disabled adults the chance to learn about and work in the food services industry. It also creates employment and internship opportunities for local high school and college students interested in Ada’s mission, thus also presenting the opportunity for people who mightn’t ordinarily interact to form bonds and learn from each other.
The Ada’s team has worked a number of high-profile events, including receptions at the Italian Consulate and a gala honoring Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
This summer, Ada’s Café will move into its permanent restaurant location at the brand new Mitchell Park Community Center. They went up against a number of better-established companies in competing for the space, but were ultimately victorious in winning the contract.
And how could they not have been? It’s through endeavors such as Ada’s that everyone truly wins.