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Today's Family Magazine

Two Café & Boutique job trains and coaches individuals with mild to moderate exceptionalities

Nov 27, 2018 11:16AM

Recent Two Café & Boutique alumnus, Jacob, shown here serving customers during his training program. Jacob is now working at a local eyeglass store and a local restaurant and doing great!

By Stacy Turner

Nestled between a bike shop and a tanning salon, you’ll find a charming café near State Route 306 and East Washington Street in Chagrin Falls.  When you enter, you’ll smell coffee brewing and walk by a display case filled with decadent baked goods.  You’ll see families enjoying a delicious meal, see friends chatting over coffees, or see a man diligently working on his laptop.  But there’s much more to this establishment than meets the eye.  The back wall of this inviting space is adorned with words that are more than just simple design elements. They highlight the reasons that the Two Café & Boutique exists: to spread peace and hope, to achieve dreams, and most importantly to accomplish these goals together.  Not surprisingly, the Café and the foundation that manages it take their name from chapter four of the book of Ecclesiastes, which reminds that, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.”

Since 2015, Sheri Hunter has been on a mission to use the Two Café and Boutique to instill individuals with exceptionalities with the tools and skills to integrate into workplaces around the area. Adamant not to create a place where ‘those special people work’, she set out to tear down walls and remove the stigma that often surrounds individuals with Downs Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and other ‘exceptionalities’. “We treat them as people,” she says simply.  “We’re all just people, and we all have exceptionalities,” she explained. “We’re all in this together.”

The Two Foundation, which serves individuals 16 years of age and older with mild to moderate exceptionalities, fills a gap for individuals left without employment upon completion of high school or exiting a sheltered workshop.  Each person begins at the Two Café and Boutique, where they receive job training and coaching.  By accessing their skills, strengths, and interests, the Two Foundation can then place individuals in jobs at other organizations where they can achieve success.

“If I only hired for the café,” Hunter explained, “I could only help a limited number of people. I’m on a mission to start a movement of integration that spreads into the workplace,” she added. 

In its four years of operation, the Two Foundation has worked with 80 individuals, more than 50 of who remain successfully employed.  Over 40 businesses partner with the Two Foundation, including car dealerships, manufacturers, law firms, financial service firms, restaurants, and retailers.

In turn, partner companies benefit by making a difference and meeting the needs of individuals with exceptionalities.  “Our goal is to help individuals start here to receive the training and work experience they need in order to transition them to positions at businesses,” Hunter explained.  “What we do here is unique, and that’s truly unfortunate.” This different approach has individuals coming from Geauga, Cuyahoga, Lake, Summit, and Portage counties for an opportunity to transition to work at fully integrated companies.  Even so, Hunter has more openings to fill than individuals to fill them.

Hunter’s son Derek is the inspiration behind the organization.  Hunter credits Derek’s passion for life as the heartbeat behind everything done at “The Two.”   She noted that Derek was determined to graduate from college, and he did so in 2013 from Kent State University.  He and his wife Lauren both got their start by working at the Two Café and Boutique.  Today, both have transitioned to other jobs, live in their own home, and drive independently.  “We know that each individual’s path to independence will be uniquely different,” beamed Hunter, “but we can all get there when opportunities are provided, support is given, and barriers are removed.”

More than just an inviting place to gather for good food and great company, the Two Café and Boutique provides real work experience in a fully integrated setting.  “We do life so much better when we do it together,” Hunter concluded.

Two Café and Boutique is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 am until 3 pm.  All café items are scratch-made from local ingredients.  The boutique features a variety of socially responsible clothing and accessories, as well as a selection of seasonal and locally made gift items.

Two Café and Boutique is located at 8578 E. Washington Street in Chagrin Falls.  For more information, visit twocafeandboutique.com or call 440-384-3236.