When the Beautiful Rainbow Catering Company and Garden officially opened its doors inside the Gadsden Public Library on Valentine’s Day, it was a cause of celebration for everyone involved.
The library café is the latest component of a larger garden-to-table education curriculum for adolescents and young adults with significant cognitive disabilities in the Gadsden City Schools. In addition to operating the area’s only vegetarian eatery, the program also operates a kitchen laboratory, classroom, and organic garden which grows vegetables year-round.
Chip Rowan, the director of the Beautiful Rainbow Project, connected with the Gadsden library through ADRS Business Relations Consultant Daniel Spencer in July 2016. Rowan and his students had previously served customers with an after-school and summer venture, and Spencer knew he was looking for a more permanent location.
Spencer said he first connected with the Gadsden Library at a ribbon-cutting ceremony more than a year ago. He forged a strong partnership with library staff by hosting several trainings on disability.
Those meetings soon led to the successful placement of Amanda Sigler, a VR consumer, into employment.
“I reached out to the library to show them what we can do,” said Spencer. “I taught them about the many benefits of hiring people with disabilities. We made a successful placement and we also brainstormed about unique ways to fill this large empty space in the library.”
Today, that space has been completely transformed, with a dozen tables and seating for 50 patrons.
And while a visit to the Beautiful Rainbow is a treat for any customer, it is, perhaps, most meaningful for the employees who greet you behind the counter.
“Students working at the Beautiful Rainbow have an opportunity to receive co-op credit for the experience,” Spencer said. “That co-op credit enables these kids to graduate with a high school diploma, not just a certificate of attendance.”
Spencer said he will share his experience with other BRCs at their next quarterly meeting to see if this type of program can be replicated in other areas of the state.
“As a BRC, I worked to introduce Vocational Rehabilitation to the library,” said Spencer. “Call it connecting. Call it community. The difference is they now know what we do. By putting that nugget in the mind of businesses, good things will grow and flourish with a little legwork up front.”
The café is operated by the Gadsden City Schools. Local business partners, including King’s Olive Oil and Back Forty Brewing, provide additional funding. In addition to ADRS and the Gadsden Public Library, other program partners include Gadsden’s Project SEARCH program and the ARC of Jackson County.