UNION GROVE — They have smiles on their faces and exude a zest for life that could brighten a person’s day.
Benjamin Page and Matthew Gilliland wear gray-and-black pinstripe aprons over their T-shirts and clear latex gloves. They follow directions, carefully taking coffee orders and making various drinks under the supervision of their obviously energetic manager.
Page and Gilliland speak to each other kindly, laugh together and serve customers.
This is the first day on the job at Shepherds Community Cafe for Page and Gilliland, both students at Shepherds College in Union Grove, a school for people with intellectual disabilities. They listen to directions from their manager, Brooke Clark, and interact with customers, appearing eager to meet their needs.
Shepherds partnered with Community State Bank, 1500 Main St., Union Grove, to host the cafe inside the bank building. The cafe officially opened its doors to customers Monday, July 23. It is large with a sleek, modern design. The cafe has lots of indoor and outdoor seating, features a gas fireplace inside and a gas bonfire pit outside.
Clark, a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, said it was her dream to run a coffee shop that employs people with disabilities after volunteering for Shepherds College in high school. She beamed as she spoke about being chosen by Shepherds to manage the new cafe. She is finishing the last few credits of her biblical studies degree online, so she works as manager.
All the proceeds from the cafe, besides operating costs, go to help Shepherds College grow its culinary studies program.
The cafe is also trying to make a positive impact in other ways. All cups are recyclable, and Shepherds opted for paper straws rather than plastic. The uniforms and any merchandise with the cafe logo are purchased from a company called Doing Good Work which benefits children aging out of the foster system.
Joe Stock, a self-proclaimed “coffee freak,” worked for months through his job at Integrated Security Solutions, one of the bank’s vendors, installing cameras and alarm systems in the cafe. He said he’s smelled the ground coffee for the past couple of days as the cafe was prepared for its opening and was excited to finally try the coffee.
“This is the first drink I’ve ordered, and it’s great,” Stock said. “It’s awesome. It’s a great thing that they’re doing. It’s great to see two businesses working together.”
The cafe hours are Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to noon. It is closed on Sundays.