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John Monfredo: Worcester Schools and MA Commission for the Blind Team Up

Saturday, December 08, 2012


Dr. Melinda Boone and Ms. Janet La Breck just before the ribbon cutting.

Last week a  festival  ceremony  took place at The John Durkin Building at 20 Irving Street in the new [email protected] Café’ with  School Superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone and Ms. Janet La Breck, director of the Commission for the Blind, cutting the ribbon. Over 50 guests attended the ceremony to support the newest breakfast and lunch site in Worcester. The event was collaboration between the Worcester Public School’s Wellness Committee, the Deafblind/Low Vision/Blind Department and the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind’s Vending Program, and is the first of its kind in Massachusetts. This partnership  will offer healthier food options to employees at the building and the public, and will give opportunities for students who are identified through the Individualized Education Plan as sensory impaired (deafblind, low vision, blind) regardless of additional disabilities, to intern at the Café.

Dr. Boone embraced the partnership and stated that it took many individuals working together to make it happen.  Dr. Boone cited the work done by the tradesmen of the Worcester Public Schools and the many individuals in the Special Education Department that made this project happen.  Janet LaBreck felt that this partnership will benefit many in the community and stated that her organization purchased the furniture for the Café’ and was delighted to do so.   Students who are deaftblind, low vision and or blind, as part of their school related, special education services will be able to participate in an unpaid internship.  Students who also qualify as vocational rehabilitation clients under the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind regulations may also be eligible to participate in a paid summer internship. 

The café’ owner is David Merrett, who also owns Dave's Café’ at the Worcester Trail Court.   Mr. Merrett, who is legally blind, was able to establish this new café’ under the federal law Randolph-Sheppard Act, which mandates a priority to blind persons to operate vending facilities on Federal property.  The project also puts Mr. Merett in the role of a mentor for students with a disability for the students will be looking to him as a role model. Mr. Merrett acknowledged that the Café’ is open to the public and the hours of operation are 7:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The breakfast and luncheon menu offers a variety of options from omelets, ham, bacon and bagels in the morning to sandwiches, subs, and rolls in the afternoon.  Working in the kitchen with Mr. Merett is his wife Jane.

Keefe Banger, teacher of Visually Impaired, sees the Café opening to be significant on several fronts.  As a teacher of the blind, Mr. Banger stated, “I see it as an opportunity for Worcester students to participate in direct instruction in a real life employment situation within a safe environment.”  Mr. Banger went on to say that students who are deafblind, blind or visually impaired do not have the ability to learn by watching others, the opportunity to learn through first-hand experience with direct instruction is very important.  He also praised WPS employees who work at the Durkin Building for they have been welcoming to blind, visually impaired or deafblind students over the past couple of years as the students participated in internships with mail delivery and some light secretarial assistance.  He sees the Café’ as another opportunity for the students.  Mr. Banger also stated that Dr. Boone has set the tone for such an undertaking through her message that everyone is responsible for the education of all students.

Starting in January, disabled students will be assisting in the Café’ and will be supervised by the teachers for the visually impaired.  “These students benefit from direct instruction from Teachers of the Visually Impaired,” stated Jane Rosen, one of the organizers of this event and who serves as the Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist for the school system. Ms. Rosen went on the say that creating vocational opportunities in which students can practice prevocational, vocational, social, and orientation and mobility skills will further prepare them for the next environment.   Skilled students will work in a variety of jobs from social, communication, money management, stocking, public relations and delivery.

One of the invited guests at the ribbon cutting ceremony was Nancy Saal, coordinator of Pioneering Healthier Communities.  Mrs. Saal was most enthusiastic about the event and supports the concept of environmental change to promote healthy eating.  She stated that the opening of the [email protected] Café’ is a wonderful example of environmental change leading to healthier food choices for employees.

In addition, the Wellness Committee at the Durkin Administration Building based on their Community Healthy Living Assessment survey revealed that there was a need for a healthy food environment and therefore supported this initiative.   The establishment of the Café’ gave everyone an opportunity to work at the Durkin Building, a place where they could go in and purchase healthy foods. Thus, the little used break room in the basement of the building in collaboration with the with the Deafblind/Low Vision/Blind Department and the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind joined forces to plan for student involvement and for healthy food options.

The long-term goals are to providing internship opportunities to students, offering health foods to its customers, and use of the café for a meeting place.  First chance you get drop over to the [email protected] Café’ and enjoy a good meal.


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