New cafe teaches skills training to youth with exceptionalities in Kingston

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New cafe teaches skills training to intellectually challenged youth in Kingston
WATCH: CommUnity Cafe has opened at Centre 70 Arena offering good food with a helping of skills training for the community's intellectually challenged youth. – Apr 6, 2023

Editor’s note: The term ‘exceptionalities’ in this story is used in place of ‘disabilities.’

A new cafe has opened in a Kingston, Ont., arena and it’s serving up more than food.

The CommUnity Cafe, located in Centre 70 arena in the city’s west end,  is run by a local program that helps young adults with intellectual and developmental exceptionalities learn important skills.

The cafe may have only opened two weeks ago but it’s already making a difference.

“[Working the] cash I like, I guess because you get to count money and take people’s orders,” said program participant Connor Wright.
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“The amount of growth and progress that they’ve done even in two weeks is just phenomenal,” said Bloom Skills Centre Executive Director Amber Potter.

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The Bloom Skills Centre is a non-profit organization in Kingston that operates the cafe.

“To make the jump for young people with exceptionalities between school and employment, there’s sort of a big gap and it’s that it’s that catch-22 scenario where employers want you to have skills and experiences, but then without the opportunity to practice those skills, then it’s hard to get employment,” added Potter.

That’s why she says Bloom Skills Centre was created — to help young adults with intellectual and developmental exceptionalities, like autism or OCD, prepare for future employment.

“I would like to continue working here or work in the retail industry,” said Robert Roques, another participant.

“I’m not great at math so I’ve learned more skills with math,” added program participant Ali Woods.

Currently there are seven people on staff at the cafe with alternating shifts.

While they are not being paid, taking part is free and the program works to find them paid positions with larger companies like Starbucks and Costco.

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With support from the city and additional grants, Blooms Skills Centre turned a vacant arena canteen into a popular cafe.

“Here in the west end, we don’t have a coffee shops down here near Reddendale area so this is a really nice location,” said Wendy Stephen, Kingston city councillor for the area.

However, it’s not just about supporting the cause.

“The food is great; the soup is beautifully homemade,” said Denise Missere, a customer at the cafe.

The Bloom Skills Centre hopes to expand and offer more skills-training programs.

“We’ve even talked about maybe a food truck in the future,” said Potter.

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