Café at Stamford courthouse offers employment and empowerment

The Abilis Courthouse Café is staffed by young adults with developmental disabilities, along with job coaches and a manager.

Marissa Alter

Mar 28, 2024, 2:20 AM

Updated 12 days ago


For the first time in years, you can grab a bite to eat or a cup of coffee at Stamford Superior Court. But the new concession stand is more than that. It's a place that employs and empowers.
“The current unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 85%, and we're trying to change that,” explained Amy Montimurro, president and CEO of Abilis, a nonprofit that helps over 800 people with special needs and their families in Fairfield County.
The Abilis Courthouse Café is staffed by young adults with developmental disabilities, along with job coaches and a manager.
“It’s a training platform for the people we support to learn job skills to assist them to find competitive employment outside of our Abilis businesses,” said Pamela Arturi, Abilis, director of businesses. “Our team members learn all types of job skills that people would need to know working in the cafe and restaurant industry.”
“They're working on helping clean, maintaining the front of the cafe, the inventory, interacting with customers. For a lot of people, social skills are something they have to work on, how to interact with different people in our community.”
For Raven Tamburro, 32, of Stamford, this is her first job. “I like it here,” Tamburro told News 12, smiling. “I like to serve food and clean the tables.”
“I do the stuff with the customers and work in the back,” said Allison Zsembik, 27, of Stamford. “We have fun together. We have so much fun.”
The goal isn't just a paycheck. The hope is for these young adults to learn and grow.
“It's so important for people with disabilities to be front and center and for our community to know all the skills and abilities they have to offer. Without these really creative and innovative ways to train people and more importantly getting our patrons as part of the process, we can't do what we need to do to really get people comfortable working at jobs,” Montimurro said.
This is Abilis’ seventh café, following the success of the others. About 25 participants, ages 21 to 35, work different shifts there, all coming in with different abilities and objectives.
“What Abilis does for the people we support is critical to help people be successful in their own lives, to maximize their independence, their self-direction,” Arturi told News 12. “It helps people to have an overall better quality of life.”
“I've seen a change in people developing skills, self-worth, the confidence. I think during a workforce shortage where businesses are struggling to find staff, they're starting to see maybe we should try hiring a person with a disability and how they can contribute to the workforce and what an asset they can be,” Montimurro explained.
This is the first Abilis café in a courthouse and the response there has been incredible, according to Montimurro and Arturi.
“We have the marshals and attorneys and jurors coming in. We had a line out the door, and they couldn't be more welcoming here to the people we're supporting and our staff,” Monitmurro said. “This partnership has been incredible.”
The cafe is stocked with food and beverages from area restaurants and caterers. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
To learn more about Abilis, click here.

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