Holiday Spirit

Kathleen Hughes, founder of Ada's Café, left center, Charlie Hughes, center, and Todd Cerf, right, serve a customer at the Mitchell Park cafe on Nov. 21. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Posted November 24, 2017

Ada's Café gives people with disabilities a chance to grow
Nonprofit runs one-of-a-kind eatery centered around community

By Jamey Padojino

Wodd Cerf never saw himself as a leader, but he's now a manager-in-training at Ada's Cafe in Palo Alto. He opens up most mornings with card access to the building, one of his many duties since getting promoted in May.

"I enjoy it because I get to work more hours, and I enjoy it because I like seeing all the regular customers that come in every day," the fresh-faced 31-year-old said timidly but with a grin.

He maintains his professionalism with the patrons as they enter the shop, a straight shot from the door to the counter, look over the displays of delectable pastries and to-go items and choose a dish or drink from menus. While the espresso machine hums away, Cerf and his customers enjoy each other's company and inject humor into their conversations.

"If they ordered a big drink order I just tell them, you know, 'Sounds like someone needed to get their buzz on,'" he said. "I can joke with them in a way that makes them want to come back."

Jeremy Teter waves to longtime customers at Ada's Café as he works the lunch shift on Nov. 21.
Cerf is one of the 34 people with disabilities who are finding empowerment through their jobs at Ada's Cafe, a nonprofit that aims to give work opportunities to this group and to change the face of retail. They work out of a small, inviting coffee shop that opened in 2014 next to the Mitchell Park Library or in the commercial kitchen in Mountain View, where all the food is made with organic ingredients. Many of them are trained to be a jack-of-all-trades who can take orders, prepare food, deliver orders and clean up, among other duties.

"The more u grow at the cafe the more responsibility you will have and more trust In your self and more trust with people who work with u every day," Cerf said in a follow-up email.

The workers' disabilities range include traumatic brain injuries, Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorders. Their employment is significant: National data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a 10.5 percent unemployment rate for people with disabilities last year, nearly double the national average. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 10 times the average of a local area, Executive Director Kathleen Foley-Hughes said.

The nonprofit has also hired a Syrian refugee who immigrated to the United States and landed in the Bay Area, where he said he applied for more than 50 jobs before coming to Ada's.

To support the work of Ada's Cafe, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund gave a $5,000 grant last year, which allowed the organization to fill a shortfall between the cafe's revenues and the costs of running the operation.

"Our grant helped cover the minimum wage that has increased for everyone," Foley-Hughes said. The nonprofit also provides health insurance and workers compensation, which have also become a large expense.

All employees start out earning the minimum wage, which is currently $12 an hour in Palo Alto and is set to increase to $13.50 in the new year. There's little worker turnover at Ada's, where wages range between $12 to $20 per hour, Foley-Hughes said. Funding the employee earnings will be a growing concern as the rate is scheduled to go up to $15 an hour by 2019.

Foley-Hughes noted the nonprofit hasn't raised its prices since late 2015.

"We're so community-minded and we don't want people to not afford to come. We try to be good about that," she said.

On-the-job training is a vital component to maintaining an efficient work environment.

"When you're talking about working with people with disabilities, each person has a plan," Foley-Hughes said.

John Collins, 53, of Palo Alto, is learning how to create latte art from his co-workers. Hearts and bears are pretty easy to draw, but he said it would be neat to create a yin yang symbol on foam.

"I didn't really get to make coffee drinks before on the espresso machine," said Collins, who has previous food service experience at Papa Murphy's and Emil Villa's Hickory Pit. His sharp memory is apparent as he carefully describes the steps into making a latte, which requires making sure the milk is warmed up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

"That's pretty hard to gauge," he said.

In May, Collins used the money he saved up from his job to purchase an HP All In One desktop computer during a Memorial Day sale, just under $600. Now, he has his sights set on saving up for a new car -- either a Mazda6 or Dodge Charger -- or a Nintendo Switch.

Jeremy Teter, 32, of Sunnyvale, is embracing his inner people-person at Ada's, where nowadays he finds himself at the nonprofit's catering events initiating conversations with customers by asking about their day.

"I'm learning to do things different to challenge myself," he said.

His new responsibilities include counting money at the cash register ("I do the dollars first and the change last," he said) and taking a cart to the Mountain View kitchen where he visits the storage room to stock up on supplies, a task he does either on his own or with a co-worker who can help keep track of what's needed.

Teter's passion for his job and co-workers is apparent.

"We love each other. We respect each other and we are a family that care about each other," he said. "It's a blessing to be with people who you really like ... who you care about, too."

Powell Gaynor is comfortable behind the cash register and cleaning tables but now finds himself relearning food preparation and bringing out orders in a timely manner, which he said can become overwhelming.

The 21-year-old employee originally lived in Mountain View when he was hired, but now works on the weekends while he spends the weekdays in San Jose as a San Jose City College student. He aspires to become a humanitarian and to one day take part in relief efforts.

Gaynor is learning the ropes of the espresso machine by watching his fellow co-workers.

"When I observed it I was like, 'Oh, OK, that's not so bad.' It's just like a couple steps and you're done," he said.

The job requires taking on multiple responsibilities, which fosters a sense of independence among the workers, who strive to create a place for the community to indulge in a good meal.

"It's nice to see people who might have a hard time getting a job otherwise ... (be) able to work here, and they can feel like they're a regular person," Gaynor said.

Apply for a Holiday Fund Grant

Nonprofits serving children and families may apply for funds by downloading our Grant Application Guidelines and Grant Application Form. Application deadline: 11:59 p.m. on Friday, January 13, 2023.

Make a donation
2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$10,000

AbilityPath$10,000

Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area
$10,000

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000

Canopy$5,000

CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000

DreamCatchers$15,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School
$7,500

EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education
$10,000

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000

Kara$15,000

Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

Peer Point$20,000

Peninsula Bridge$10,000

Peninsula College Fund$10,000

Peninsula Healthcare Connection$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$15,000

Peninsula Youth Theatre$5,000

Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation$10,000

Reading Partners
Silicon Valley
$10,000

ReadySetExcel$5,000

Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)
$5,000

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League
$7,500

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000

TheatreWorks$5,000

UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000

WeHOPE$15,000

WomenSV$7,500

Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center
$10,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000


As of December 7th, 165 donors have contributed $145,397 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

24 Anonymous7,075
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Maureen O'Connor150
Martha Shirk1,200
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker1,000
Diane and Brandy Sikic*
Alicia Newman100
Dorsey & Katherine Bass300
Edie Kirkwood1,000
Micri & Bob Cardelli*
George & Betsy Young*
Diana Diamond1,000
Brigid Barton 2,000
Korol Family250
Lawrence R. Yang & Jennifer W. Kuan10,000
Anthony & Susan Wood25,000
Lynn and Andrew Newman*
Katherine Bryant100
Barbara Riper*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Carolyn Caddes*
Kroymann Family250
Marian Adams100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Elaine Hah1,500
Retired*
Julie & Dan Lythcott-Haims250
Tess & Eric Byler150
Denise and Jeff Simons*
Keith and Linda Clarke*
Harriet Benson10,000
Arthur Keller250
Cynthia Costell100
George & Betsy Bechtel200
Ellen M. Lillington200
Tom & Nancy Fiene200
Tom & Patricia Sanders*
Amado & Deborah Padilla250
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Merele McClure250
Joanne Koltnow400
Christina Kenrick1,000
Richard Johnsson5,000
Xiaofan Lin100
Bonnie and Bryan Street*
Thomas Rindfleisch*
Jody Maxmin*
Diane and Joe Rolfe*
Diane Finkelstein250
Linda & Steve Boxer*
David & Betsy Fryberger400
Jan Aarts*
Judith Appleby300
Donald Barr150
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Edward Kanazawa300
Karen A. Latchford*
Kingsley Jack250
Richard Zuanich150
Patti Yanklowitz and Mark Krasnow100
Denise Savoie and Darrell Duffie*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumbartner*
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Barbara Klein*
Dorothy Deringer200
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Scottie Zimmerman100
Fran Codispoti250
Ted & Ginny Chu*
The Dong Family200
Bill Reller*
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Janis Ulevich*
Theradep Technologies500
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Andrea B. Smith100
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
The Havern Family5,000
Gwen Luce and Family*
Bruce Campbell*
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
Judy Kramer*
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
John Keller100
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
Charlotte Johansen200
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Donna Silverberg100
Paul & Jane Millman250
In Memory Of

Walter Dean*
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Jack Sutorius750
Michele Wilson*
Bob Donald350
Leonard Ware*
Robert Spinrad100
August King*
Bob Simoni500
David W. Mitchell*
Paul Seaver*
Gerald Berner300
Ian Halliday250
Ray Bacchetti300
Marie and Don Snow200
Andre Jones *
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
David Sager100
Ted Linden200
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Chet Brown*
Phil Zschokke200
Nellie Perna Bartello100
Bob Donald*
Steven T. Ross100
In Honor Of

Marilyn Sutorius750
Darla Tupper3,922
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach and Thomas & Louise Phinney1,000
Polly Caddes*
Joe Simitian*
Gabby Perez & Logan Marsh250
Dr Ron Radzilowski*
Businesses & Organizations

Angelo Family Foundation 5,000
Palo Alto Business Park*
Hearts & Minds Activity Center75
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Peery Foundation10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000

Past Holiday Fund Grant Recipients

2018-2019 | 2017-2018 | 2016-2017 | 2015-2016 | 2014-2015 | 2013-2014 | 2012-2013 | 2011-2012 | 2010-2011 | 2009-2010 | 2008-2009 | 2007-2008 | 2006-2007 | 2005-2006 | 2004-2005 | 2003-2004 | 2002-2003 | 2001-2002 | 2000-2001 | 1999-2000