A cafe at Bungendore is challenging what the community thinks people with a disability are capable of – one serving of coffee and cake at a time.
“When I first met Elizabeth she said – all I want to do is have a real job and pay tax,” laughs Sarah Schiliro, Manager of The Big Green Cup Cafe.
After a mixed career including disability support and real estate, Ms Schiliro took charge of the existing cafe four months ago.
“Disability support was my real passion, I am not sure how I ended up in real estate for seven years, and I’ve never worked in hospitality before, but when the cafe came on the market I saw an opportunity,” Ms Schiliro says.
The Bungendore local is building a business that relies on a workforce who live with disabilities or have a story to tell.
“Elizabeth was born with Down Syndrome and she is my main worker, she’d never had a job before and was just living life going to respite care,” Ms Schiliro says.
“She’d never done anything like this and I said to her mum – why don’t we start her on a program where she starts off doing dishes and we’ll build her confidence up to take on more?
“The change I have seen in her; from washing dishes and being too shy to talk to people, to now being able to serve customers and work the till – it’s been really good.”
The 22-year-old feels the growth in herself, “I love the people that work here, we always do things together and that makes me feel happy,” Elizabeth says.
Just in the last few weeks, Ms Schiliro has employed another young local lady living with Down Syndrome, as well as a 19-year-old with an intellectual disability and a 15-year-old transgender person.
“In the right environment, just because you are a little bit different doesn’t mean you can’t hold down a job,” Ms Schiliro says.
“When I was working in the disability sector I used to hate how people like Elizabeth would have to go to a day program while mum and dad went to work.
“Why can’t they have a job? Why do they have to go to a day program and colour-in? It would drive me nuts.”
Ms Schiliro has a determination to prove that people with a disability are worth more and can do more.
“All of us hate paying tax but that is all Elizabeth wanted to do, she wanted her work to be legitimate, and I hate to say it but she wanted to ‘be normal’ – get up in the morning and go to work,” Ms Schiliro says.
“And she knew what she wanted to do with her first pay packet.”
All staff in The Big Green Cup Cafe work independently of any carers or support workers, Ms Schiliro’s background helps but at the same time she doesn’t think the challenges are too much for any employer to overcome.
“The knowledge and capability of people with a disability is really underestimated – any business should give them a go.”
“Some people have made the comment that I am only employing people with a disability because it’s cheaper.
“That’s not true, everyone gets paid the correct wage and paid like anyone else.”
Overwhelming the response from customers and the community has been positive, especially among Bungendore’s young people.
Apart from being satisfied with good coffee, cake, and food, Ms Schiliro hopes people will leave her cafe with a better acceptance of the different gifts and abilities we all bring to our communities, and that our own reaction to those differences can shape someone’s success or otherwise.
“Don’t create barriers for people, you’ll be surprised at what people are capable of.”
For the record, Elizabeth bought a bottle of vodka with her first pay packet.
“Like any worker, she loves going to the pub and having a drink,” Ms Schiliro laughs.
The Big Green Cup Cafe is in The Village Square on Malbon Street, Bungendore, and is open Monday and Tuesday 8 am – 8 pm for dinner, and Wednesday to Sunday 8 am – 5 pm, with live music every Saturday from 11.30 am – 2 pm.
*This story first appeared on RiotACT