A new café at a RISE AmeriCorps host site is serving up house-brewed coffee from Guatemala, horchata, enchiladas and more for a cause. IC Compassion’s Jabez Café trains young adults with disabilities to gain job skills, confidence and independence while working at the Latin-inspired venue.
Open Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each week, Jabez Café is easily accessible through the IC Compassion building at 1035 Wade St. in Iowa City. Upon entering, guests are welcomed with a warm environment, the smell of coffee and a lunch menu with Latin American staples. Most importantly, the space is a community for immigrant families with disabilities.
The Jabez Café project started in spring, 2022 after a group of immigrant parents gathered to improve opportunities for their children with disabilities, including several with autism and Down syndrome. IC Compassion’s Program Coordinator Dayrin Lovan, who is also a former RISE AmeriCorps member, spearheads the project. Her son, Jabez, was one of the first students to try out the model and is the namesake behind the café.
In fall 2022, Jabez Café will begin training five students to learn skills, such as cooking, baking, customer service, organizing and more.
“It gives each of the students an opportunity to work on different skills at different places and we meet them where they are at,” Lovan said.
To help run the café and maintain a supportive environment for the youth, the family members of the students regularly volunteer with cafe shifts. Another unique aspect of Jabez Café is patrons pay only in donations instead of set prices. Although a cash or Venmo donation is suggested for ordering each item, individuals can ultimately pay whatever they are able. Lovan said they regularly serve IC Compassion clients meals for free when they come in to receive other services.
RISE AmeriCorps Member Jonatan Artola said he hears from families that their disabled children past age 18 often stay at home without much opportunity. However, Artola believes they can contribute at work by finding what each uniquely enjoys and excels at. At Jabez Café, they have the opportunity to work in an environment adaptable to them and their emerging skills.
Artola’s role is also a mentor for the youth, who primarily come from Spanish-speaking families. Although Jabez Café trains young people aged 16 - 21, Artola mostly serves the older youth who graduated high school and are now looking for job opportunities. In addition to assisting them as needed at the café, Artola helps the young adults create a resume, strategize goals for their future, and even prepare for job applications and interviews.
Artola said he helped one of his mentees, who recently finished high school and has a physical disability, come to see his own potential and gain confidence at Jabez Café. Artola’s student is now prepared with the experiences and skills he needs to start working in a restaurant or coffee shop.
“Most of the volunteers, once you get to know them, they change your life,” Artola said. “It changes the way you see things.”