Maddie Mitton never dreamed that she’d be serving coffee and meals to strangers.
“I had a lot of problems with insecurity so looking people in the eye was really hard,” Mitton said on Monday.
Mitton lives with a host of mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.
Although she’s always been open about her struggles with potential employers, it has often led to a lot of closed doors.
“I was discriminated against because I have mental health issues,” Mitton said.
But the newly opened Inspiration Café in Moncton embraces those challenges.
The café hires and trains people who live with mental illness. They’re taught culinary and people skills in a warm and understanding environment.
“I knew I wanted to work with people,” Mitton said.
“It is just sometimes, with mental health, it can be hard to deal with the public when you are having a bad day.”
But at the café, Mitton doesn’t have to hide her feelings. She gets encouragement and support on those bad days.
“I can just tell them: ‘Look, I am feeling a little bit off. Can I go take five minutes to collect myself?'” she said.
Debbie McInnis, executive director of the United Way of Greater Moncton, was inspired to begin the project after seeing similar cafés open in B.C. and a little closer to home.
“We went to St. John’s, N.L., and went to the Hungry Heart Café, and it was just a warm and loving environment,” she said.
It was that feeling that she wanted to replicate for people living with mental illness and struggling with homelessness in Moncton.
“They want to be able to be contributing members of society, to be valued, to feel valued — and working does that,” McInnis said.
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It takes time and patience to get staff up to speed, but Rachel Scoville, the café’s program manager, says it is worth it.
“The importance of this café is to train so it is ensuring that our customers have patience with us because that is our objective here,” she said.
Not all of the staff will stay on at the café. Once they gain some work skills, employees are encouraged to move on to other employment.
Mitton says she is planning on staying put for a while, as managing her anxiety is still a work in progress.
“I find when I am home, I am anxious but when I am here I am not,” she said.