Fresno cafe offers students with special needs hands-on skills

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Kids Cafe 2019 is an eatery with a bigger cause.

Inside the kitchen, deaf and hard-of-hearing students from Fresno County are learning about working in the restaurant business.

Through American Sign Language, Action News reporter Amanda Venegas was able to ask Viviana Mendoza of Firebaugh about her experience.

Her interpreter explained her perspective as a student.

"I really enjoy it here. I'm learning a lot of things for my future job, potentially. I'm getting experience on how to cook," said Mendoza.

With the pandemic easing, students are now returning to the cafe to learn vocational skills.

And they're serving up some new menu items, including sandwiches, pizzas and salads.

People just write down their orders, and the students take it from there!

"It's a really joyful experience to watch them when they get it. They wear their emotions on their sleeve if you well. There's jumping and joy and raising of hands and just this heartwarming situation that occurs. And the overwhelming feeling of success when they get it and the light goes on," said cafe manager Tracy Ross.
The students are learning skills, including reading and putting together a product for sale.

The cafe started in 2018 along Mariposa and Fulton in downtown Fresno.

While it's a site for hands-on learning, it's also provided a place for inclusion.

"Yes, it's a high-functioning restaurant with great food. A nice menu. But it was really about having a special needs children here working and showing the community that these kids can do anything if you just give them an opportunity to do it," said Jim Yovino, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools.

In the future, educators hope to team up with local businesses for more job opportunities.

You can try the breakfast pizza and other items. Kids Cafe 2019 is open Monday through Friday, 8 am -2 pm. You can order online.

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