People with autism can sometimes find it difficult to interact with others. That can make getting a job even harder. But there is a place where on the job training can open the horizons of both workers and customers.
If you find yourself off South Sixth Street you may have missed The Noll Café located at the Noll Medical Pavilion in Springfield. The café ran by The Hope Institute offers healthy alternatives for morning and lunchtime patrons.
The employees are courteous, friendly and really get to know their customers. 19 year old Aric Burkelow works daily at a bank in Springfield but today he’s filling in at the counter. He has advice for employers. "Take chances and see what they can do first see if they can help you.”
People with medical conditions like Aric struggle to find employment as well he was diagnosed with Lymphoma during the summer of 2011. He came to The Hope Institute to learn how to be a working professional.
Director of Vocational Services, Skylar Tierney says the café provides opportunities for the students to learn and develop in ways the classroom setting cannot bring.
“We have staff that are here to help but it has been amazing to me to watch our students grow and the different levels of independence they have here. When we put them in a café setting in a real world life experience type of environment. Its amazing to see them succeed because the struggles they had in a classroom we don’t see them here in the café.”
Illinois law requires employers not discriminate when it comes to hiring practices. However Noll Café manager Kristine Gough says she thinks there’s still hesitation when it comes to hiring certain individuals partly because of a lack of education.
“I think they just get nervous I don’t know if they’re really educated and know what to do or what to expect kind of thing and that kind of a hope for us to educate everybody on this … kids with Autism and on the Autism spectrum. I think they need to have little seminars to bring people in.”
Café Noll staff consists of people with various conditions. It’s provides a real world environment making coffee, sandwiches even paninis for customers. The café is one of the only places in Central Illinois that encourages these people to become more independent through a professional setting. The café sees plenty of new faces everyday but it’s the regular customers that make a difference.
One group that regularly meets at the café on Fridays is known as the Heimer Club … who now have a sandwich named after them. One of the members Joe Maddox is a retired teacher and spent his time volunteering with The Hope Institute. Maddox says learning is a two way street.
“The kids are the real jewel here I think and I’ve made friends with them and I learned so much from them and if it wasn’t retired I would be looking to hire them.”
“This isn’t about charity. This is about giving people an opportunity and letting them show you what they can do. This is about allowing an opportunity for someone who hasn’t been provided a chance.”
Skyler Tierney says just stopping by the Café will give people a new perspective on what people are capable of. Another member of the Heimer Club Tom Johnson agrees.
"I know me personally we probably learn more from the kids than they do from us they teach us really how we should act."
"I promise you if you just give us five minutes here in the Café having a cup of our coffee these students can change your life."- Skylar