Cultivating opportunities: Foundation plans to open up unique training business for people with special needs

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CITY OF TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — After high school graduation, many people to go college, and then they get into the workforce. But that is a lot harder for those with autism, Down syndrome, and other intellectual disabilities.

But a new foundation is trying to help that issue, in a unique way.

“What happens, is there is a gap of services once somebody with disabilities graduates from high school, and if they don’t go on to college, they really kind of lose some benefits (and) some programming stops at that point,” Damon Piatek said, the president/CEO of Welke Custom Brokers.

Damon Piatek learned that up to 80 percent of people with intellectual disabilities are unemployed, so he came up with the idea for the Friday Foundation.

“Friday is my last name in Polish,” he said.

The goal of the foundation is to open up a coffee shop and deli to train people with special needs. The training would take six months to a year to complete. Afterward, the foundation would help the qualified workers find permanent jobs in the area.

“We have food prep, there’s cashier, there’s stocking (and) there’s janitorial, so there’s a wide ranging number of jobs inside a coffee shop/deli that are transferable to outside employment opportunities,” Rick Davis said, the vice president of the Friday Foundation.

Davis has a niece, Emily, who has down syndrome.

“We have wonderful individuals out there that would love to earn a living and give themselves a little bit of self worth,” he said. “We’re just hoping to give them that opportunity.”

The Friday Foundation is hoping to raise $1 million to buy a building for the coffee shop and deli; stock it; and hire three to four qualified staff members to do the training. But the training wouldn’t just be focused on employees. The foundation will also bring in local business owners and managers to train them on how to successfully hire people with special needs.

And in the future, the foundation hopes to branch out and expand to other career fields, like computer programming, website design and more.

To raise money for the foundation, there is a ‘Friday Night Bites’ gala on March 6, at the Tonawanda Castle. Click here for tickets, and more information about how you can help.

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