PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — A local nonprofit is aiming to help those with learning disabilities in Wesley Chapel.
It’s called the Community Café and it will act as a community center, providing job training, workshops and education for people with disabilities. Plans are also being made to offer resources for local businesses interested in hiring.
Those behind the café say there is a stigma when it comes to hiring people with disabilities and it’s a stigma they’re hoping to end.
“Our goal is to eliminate the ceiling,” says Patrick Ciaccio, Founder & CEO of the Community Café. “There is a ceiling put on people with disabilities and that ceiling needs to be erased. People with disabilities should be afforded every opportunity that someone without a disability is offered in their jobs.”
Construction of the café is ongoing with plans to open its doors next month.
Finding employment opportunities can be a struggle for many people with disabilities, but one family is overcoming those challenges.
For Nova Mahoney, being creative is no problem. It’s helped her cope with a lot of things in life. Even the things she never quite expected.
“Drawing has been really fun. It’s been my main creative outlet besides writing,” she said. “I’ve been familiar with my circumstances for a long time.”
Nova lives with autism. To some, the condition represents a barrier or a roadblock. But to her, it’s anything but that.
“I wouldn’t say a barrier, but it’s been an obstacle,” she said. “It’s definitely been difficult, but it’s not impossible.”
Made possible thanks to having a support system in her mom by her side. Nova has even been fortunate in turning her passion into a living.
“A lot of the stuff that I turned to was art and creative stuff, such as cartoons, comics, web comics and stuff of the sort,” said Nova. “I just happened to naturally pick it up and be like, ‘This is something that I really like.’ Getting involved in those communities helped me meet people that were like me.”
Together with her mom, Kat, she’s created and published her own book centered around a young, autistic girl named Astrid. A character she created based on herself.
“I think that taking our own experiences and our past skills and putting them together put to life Astrid, especially in an emotionally connected way,” Nova said.
It’s something not many in her position can say the same.
“If you think it’s hard being a normal person looking for a job, it’s ten times harder having a disability,” said Kat.
There’s been a stigma when it comes to hiring people with disabilities. A stigma, Kat said, is centered around fear.
“They’re afraid because they feel like it’s going to cost a lot of money for accommodations when, naturally, it’s only going to probably cost $500 to put a ramp in or maybe even just a passionate supervisor to train differently, visually,” said Kat.
But rather than punish individuality, the Mahoneys are embracing it.
“We’re just as human as everyone else and we have likes and interests and we struggle with things and we are good at things,” said Nova. “I hope that it helps become a gateway for people into fitting in and being seen in society as equal.”
A notion Nova is changing every day with each stroke of her pen.