A Q&A with After 26 Project board member Andrew MacDonald was originally published in the December 2014 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
When Cadillac’s After 26 Depot Cafe marked its first anniversary this past summer, it wasn’t just marking one year of serving up burgers and sandwiches—the date celebrated a year of advancing employment rights and opportunities.
As one of the nation’s only 501(c)3 restaurants, After 26 hires adults with developmental disabilities and cognitive impairment, where they work with job coaches to expand their skills. Modeled after a similar project in Chesaning, Michigan, called Junction of Hope, After 26 seeks to give its workers the opportunity for gainful employment—and the takeaway is more than just a paycheck.
After 26 Project board member Andrew MacDonald has a personal investment in the program: His sister, Mary Elizabeth MacDonald, worked at Junction of Hope and has Down syndrome. We asked Andrew for the story behind this pioneering project:
Tell us about the significance of the restaurant’s name.
In Michigan, when you are developmentally disabled, you can stay in school until the age of 26. At that time you age out of the public school system. For the vast majority of those students, they are not employable; not without a job coach and some supervision.
How many people does the After 26 Depot Cafe employ?
We have 21 “project workers” on the payroll. Their responsibilities include everything from greeter to busser to dish washer to food prep assistant. The project workers are largely in supportive roles, but we also have avenues for them to improve their skill sets.
After 26 just celebrated its first anniversary this past summer. Any long-view goals for the project’s evolution?
We do have a goal of establishing a foundation whereby we can provide seed money, some training and some instruction on how other communities can open up their own 501(c)3 to employ project workers in the public eye. That’s another important aspect of our mission: that our project workers are in the public eye. It’s important to them because for the first time in their lives they know they are being seen by the public at their job.
Why is that so important?
It’s a point of pride. It’s a self-esteem and self-worth issue. There are numerous sheltered workshops that employ developmentally disabled adults, and they are wonderful, but typically they are set up in a warehouse and those developmentally disabled adults work by themselves or with each other and they are not seen by the public.
How else do the project workers benefit?
Their job means so much to them. It’s not the pay so much. It’s the fact that they have a job. They belong to an organization that serves the public and is viable. They have that sense of belonging that you can only get from the workplace.
After 26 Depot Cafe is located at 127 West Cass Street, in Cadillac’s historic railroad depot. Learn more about the After 26 Project on their website.