Matt Heslop stands behind the counter of the Novi Public Library’s new café with a smile stretching wide across his face. It’s customer number six of the day and he cannot wait to take their order. In fact, Heslop got all of his other jobs at the café done early so he can make sure his sole focus is on customer service.
I really love serving the customers,” he said. “I like giving them their coffee or Frappuccino and then helping with the register.”
Heslop is one of three students with the Novi Adult Transition Center who work at the Novi Public Library in a variety of roles (the two others are Hunter Goodman and Michael Manning). The NATC is a post-secondary life skill and employment skills program for 18-to-26-year old Novi residents who are working toward a Certificate of Completion. Most of them have autism or a cognitive impairment and are receiving support as it pertains to independent living, community participation, employment and training and functional academics.
Kristin Corrion, Transition Coordinator for the Novi Community School District, said the main focus of the program is helping students prepare for the adult world.
“We want them to practice and learn skills in a real-life setting so when they are ready to get a job they have experience,” she said. “Then they start to identify jobs they like or don’t like so we can guide and work with other agencies as they are getting ready to leave our program and get a job.”
The café at the library is especially unique as it touches on a variety of skills, from interacting with others to counting money. The partnership started in October when the Novi Public Library decided to change its café vendor and team up with Novi Schools and its food service provider Chartwells.
Library Director Julie Farkas wanted better coffee and got just that with Starbucks, arguably the world’s most popular coffee. The library café serves the full-line of Starbucks drinks, even the special holiday ones, and opens its doors at 7am Monday-Friday and 9am Saturday and Sunday.
It has become a popular destination for community members, as there are no other coffee shops in the area, and for students who pack the café after school ends at 2 p.m. Farkas said the response to the new café has been overwhelmingly positive and cannot say enough good things about the student employees from the NATC and the NCSD special education program.
“They are loving, provide tremendous customer service and always have a smile on their face,” Farkas said. “We are so happy to give them an opportunity to learn more and grow on their own with life skills and work skills.”
Cheryl Dingeldey, one of two adult employees from Chartwells who oversee the café operation, said it is so rewarding working alongside the students. “It’s awesome. I am learning as much from them as they are being taught.”
Not only do the students help in the café with stocking shelves, making drinks, cleaning tables and helping with the register, but some of their duties expand into the library as a whole. Manning has proved to be an important part of the facilities team, taking care of the recycling, mopping floors and even setting up rooms for meetings. Farkas said his skill set allows her staff members to work on other projects because he has proven to be so effective at his job.
“The best part is when they have that ‘ah ha’ moment and it all clicks,” said Corrion. “Michael gets so excited when he does a task on his own. That’s the goal for us, that’s when we know we’ve met our mark.”
On top of working at the library, the students also work at the Novi Civic Center, Ascension Providence Hospital, Premiere Pet Supply, Great Lakes ACE Hardware and TJ MAXX. Still, Corrion said, more jobs sites are needed and those who bring these students on board will not be disappointed.
“The best quality of our students is they show up every day, they want to work, are happy to work and love doing what they do,” she said. “That’s our selling point to businesses. They are hard workers and take pride in what they do if you are willing to open your doors and your hearts to them.”
That’s exactly what Farkas and her team did and they couldn’t be happier with the results.
“For us it shows we are here for everyone,” she said. “I go back to our motto of ‘Inform. Inspire. Include.’ And to be able to show that everyone is a part of the community, everyone is welcome, that is what we strive for every day.”