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.

Make a donation
2018 Grant Recipients

10 Books A Home
Expansion of in-home tutoring and literacy program helping parents prepare their preschoolers for kindergarten through age-appropriate books and reading exercises$15,000

49ers Academy
Consolidation and relocation to a single middle school of the reading intervention and academic support program at to help prepare Ravenswood middle school students for high school $5,000

Able Works
Financial literacy education for students at Menlo-Atherton High School and East Palo Alto charter high schools and for young families$5,000

Acterra
Energy audits and solar installations aimed at reducing utility costs for low income residents of East Palo Alto and Belle Haven$5,000

Ada's Café
Training and support of developmentally disabled employees and high school interns$5,000

Adolescent Counseling Services
Outlet Program providing support services and counseling for LGBTQ+ youth $7,500

All Students Matter
Launch of new literacy intervention program focused on 3rd-5th grade students in Ravenswood school district$10,000

Art in Action
Art education program serving more than 900 students in the Ravenswood school district$5,000

Art of Yoga
Yoga, creative art and other mindfulness activities for juvenile girls in the criminal justice system$5,000

Bayshore Christian Ministries
Academic "Create" summer camp providing multiple tracks for Ravenswood district middle school students$5,000

Buena Vista Homework Club
New homework center for elementary school aged youth living at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park$10,000

CASSY
School-based mental health services to students and families in six Ravenswood elementary and middle schools$10,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Legal assistance to East Palo Alto residents facing eviction and other rental housing problems and conflicts$10,000

Downtown Streets Team
Stipends for homeless volunteers who perform community services in downtown Palo Alto as they transition to regular employment$7,500

DreamCatchers
New system to document student progress and improve communication among tutors of Palo Alto middle school students$10,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation
Educator Micro Grants Program, providing up to $600 grants to teachers in schools in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park$10,000

East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring
Literacy evaluations for first through eighth graders in Ravenswood schools to determine needed interventions$7,500

Environmental Volunteers
Monthly public environmental education programs for youth and adults$5,000

Family Connections
Early childhood education program for parents of preschoolers in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park.$7,500

Foundation for a College Education
College Knowledge middle and high school program designed to prepare students and their families to pursue a college education$7,500

Friends of Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo
Science Outreach Program providing hands on science instruction at Willow Oaks Elementary School$5,000

Get Involved Palo Alto
Service-learning internship placement program for high school students wanting to work with low-income youth$10,000

Health Connected
Sexual health education instruction in Ravenswood middle schools$5,000

Hidden Villa
Summer camp scholarships $5,000

JLS Middle School
Homework Habitat after-school homework and tutoring program three days a week$4,000

Jordan Middle School
Jordan Academic Wellness Support (JAWS) providing after-school study center for students three days a week$4,000

Kara
Spanish language peer grief support program$7,500

Live in Peace
"Gap Year Project" to guide and support at-risk high school graduates unprepared or uncertain about careers or college$5,000

Marine Science Institute
Environmental and marine science education program for low-income students$5,000

Music in the Schools Foundation
Music education in Ravenswood school district$5,000

New Creation Home Ministries
Parenting and life skills classes for teen mothers in East Palo Alto$5,000

New Voices for Youth
Video production equipment and training for middle school students at the Boys and Girls Club in East Palo Alto$3,000

Nuestra Casa
ESL classes for East Palo Alto adults$7,500

One East Palo Alto
Summer job and mentoring program for at-risk East Palo Alto youth$5,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation
Cultural Kaleidoscope, an arts-education program linking Palo Alto and East Palo Alto schools and using professional artists$5,000

Palo Alto Housing
Family Reading Club for parents and youth living in subsidized rental apartments managed by Palo Alto Housing $4,000

Peninsula Bridge
After school and summer academic support programs for low income middle and high school students with a goal of attending college$5,000

Peninsula HealthCare Connection
Health care supplies and services provided at the Opportunity Center clinic$5,000

Project WeHOPE
Classes and counseling to support the homeless in East Palo Alto$15,000

Quest Learning Center
Parent education workshops for parents of 2nd to 5th graders in East Palo Alto $5,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation
Purchase of washing machines at three district schools$10,000

Rosalie Rendu Center
ESL and life skills classes for East Palo Alto adults$3,500

Silicon Valley FACES
Scholarships for East Palo Alto teens to attend Camp Everytown youth diversity training weekend$5,000

Silicon Valley Urban Debate League
Summer debate camp for at-risk students in East Palo Alto$5,000

St. Francis of Assisi Youth Club
Meals for low-income third to fifth graders attending East Palo Alto after-school program$5,000

Stanford Jazz Workshop
Pilot of new after-school jazz music program for Ravenswood school district 6th graders$2,500

Terman Middle School
Homework Habitat after-school homework and tutoring program three days a week$4,000

YMCA East Palo Alto
Summer "Full STEAM Ahead" program for high school students, combining academic curriculum with recreational outings$7,500

YMCA Ross Road
Six-week summer enrichment camp for low-income students attending Barron Park Elementary School$5,000

Youth Community Service
Support of Summer of Service day camp scholarships, service clubs at local middle and high schools, service days and life skills programs for at-risk teens$15,000

Youth Speaks Out
Expressive arts program enabling teens whose voices may not be otherwise heard to collaborate on artistic projects with each other and supportive adults.$15,000

Child Care Facility Improvement Grants

Children's Center of the Stanford Community
New classroom tables and chairs and additional trikes$5,000

Children's Pre-School Center
Replacement of climbing structure$5,000

Friends of Preschool Family
Replacement of climbing structure$5,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool
New cabinets and counters$5,000

The Learning Center
Installation of new Nature Explore "Outdoor Classroom"$5,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care
Upgrade of outdoor play space at Barron Park Children's Center$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School
Replacement of single-pane windows$5,000

Parents Nursery School
Repavement of parking area$5,000

Peninsula Family Service
Repairs and improvements of outdoor play area at Haven Child Development Center$5,000

As of Dec. 12, 2018,
197 donors have contributed $198,275.
* indicates amount withheld

David Labaree300
Bruce Campbell200
Janis Ulevich100
Mike Gordon250
Bill Reller*
Ellen & Mike Turbow200
Xiaofan Lin50
M D Savioe*
Ron Wolf200
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Tom Goodrich100
Leif & Sharon Erickson250
Stephen Levy 500
John & Meg Monroe500
Daniel Cox200
Richard Zuanich200
Kieschnick Family*
Deborah Williams500
Joan & Roger Warnke*
Havern Family"5,000
Bill Johnson & Terri Lobdell"1,000
Mike & Jean Couch250
Tony & Judy Kramer*
Peter Stern*
Dorothy Saxe100
David & Nancy Kalkbrenner100
David & Lynn Mitchell450
Barbara Riper*
Nancy & Joe Huber100
Sue Kemp250
Richard Baumgartner & Elizabeth Salzer*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Ted & Ginny Chu*
Stev & Mary Chapel50
Ruth Hammett100
Drew McCalley & Marilyn Green100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Judith Appleby200
Carolyn Brennan*
Susana & Doug Woodman*
Jody Maxmin*
Pat Burt250
Larry Baer500
Arthur Keller*
Lawrence Naiman100
Pamela Mayerfeld100
Eileen Brooks500
Scott & Jan Kilner500
Andrea Smith100
Braff Family500
Eugene & Mabel Dong200
Debby Roth200
Phil Hanawalt & Garciela Spivak"1,000
Lani Freeman & Stephen Monismith100
Tom & Ellen Ehrlich350
Robert & Barbara Simpson*
Gwen Luce*
Robert Aulger*
Pat & John Davis50
Art & Peggy Stauffer500
Kroymann Family250
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Karen & Steve Ross*
Wileta Burch*
Mandy Lowell*
George & Betsy Young*
Tom & Pat Sanders*
Gerald & Joyce Barker200
Brigid Barton & Rob Robinson400
Jim & Alma Phillips500
Peggy & Boyce Nute*
Michael & Cathie Foster500
Diane Moore*
Linda & Steve Boxer*
Chuck & Jean Thompson100
Julie Jerome500
Bonnie Berg*
Gallo Family500
Ann & Don Rothblatt500
Caryn Huberman Yacowitz*
Shirley R. Ely"1,000
Luca & Mary Cafiero*
Steve & Diane Ciesinski500
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker500
James W. & Nancy E. Baer200
The Ely Family250
Page & Ferrell Sanders100
JoAnne N. Zschokke100
Ralph R. Wheeler300
Bert Fingerhut & Caroline Hicks250
Kaaren & John Antoun1,500
Richard Johnsson"7,000
Bruce Gee & Jane Gee250
Eric Hahn & Elaine Hahn"1,000
Bob & Dee Crawford*
Diane & Bob Simoni200
Jan Thomson & Roy Levin*
Donald & Adele Langendorf200
Irvin & Marilyn Yalom100
Brigid Barton500
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
John & Florine Galen*
H. Anton & Carolyn Tucher250
Phil Fernandez & Daniel Sternbergh*
Bob & Micki Cardelli*
John Pavkovich500
Eileen Stolee100
Sallie Whaley*
Ann Burrell & Allen Smith*
Patti Yanklowitz150
Linda Selden*
Dena Hill500
Michael Patrick200
Bonnie Packer100
Romola Georgia*
Martha Shirk500
Christina Kenrick"1,000
Dawes Family250
Ken Bencala & Sally O'Neil200
Nina & Norman Kulgein*
Tom & Nancy Fiene*
Lee Zulman*
Merrill & Lee Newman250
Judy & Lee Shulman200
Donna & Jerry Silverberg100
Victor Befera100
Kay & Don Remsen*
Beth & Peter Rosenthal300
Robyn H. Crumly*
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Amado Padilla & Deborah Farrington500
Jerry & Linda Elkind500
Donald & Virginia Fitton25
Don & Bonnie Miller100
Roger V. Smith300
In Memory Of

Er-Ying & Yen-Chen Yen250
Janet Hermsen200
Ray Bacchetti250
Nancy & Bob Lobdell*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Tracy & Alan Herrick100
Bob Fenster*
David, Zoe & Ken100
Mrs. Nancy Yih*
Thomas W. & Louise L. Phinney*
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach*
Corrine Aulgur*
Duncan Matteson250
Pam Grady300
Elliot Eisner*
Nate Rosenberg200
Francine Mendlin250
Bob Donald*
Bill Land*
Emmett Lorey*
Ted Linden200
Marie & Don Snow150
Ben Barres100
Kathleen Morris*
Our Loving Parents Albert & Beverly Pellizzari*
August L. King*
In Honor Of

Melissa Baten Caswell*
Lucy Berman's clients"2,500
Jill200
Scott200
Polly200
Hayley200
Jake200
Garrett200
Gil200
Joe Simitian*
Businesses/Organizations

Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,000
Bleibler Properties1,000
Communications & Power Industries500
deLemos Properties200

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 January 4, 2019.