By Sarah LeTrent, CNN
(CNN) – Drake takes drink orders, greets regular customers with a warm handshake and sets the tables for the next wave of the lunch crowd. It’s a stark change from the sheepish man who patrons first encountered when Harvest Café opened its doors in the beginning of 2011.
“My goodness, it’s like night and day. You’d see the change in him week by week,” says Jean Ringhoff, a regular at the café who works at a nearby bank. “At first, he barely made eye contact.”
Drake, like the restaurant itself, now commands a second look.
The pale yellow house with the white wrap-around porches serves not only as a fully-operating restaurant, but also as a day habilitation program for people with developmental disabilities.
Day-to-day operations in the café - whose slogan is “great food with a mission” - are carried out by both paid, trained restaurant workers and AVSP trainees (or “consumers” as AVSP calls the people in their programs) with disabilities. On-site, the latter receives occupational training to prepare them for entry into the workplace, and ultimately, a more independent and fulfilling life.