hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

School News

October 24, 2013

Preparing for the real world

Program teaches job skills to special needs students

A typical school day for Johnny Caba includes perusing local supermarket ads for sale items that can be incorporated into meals he helps cook and sell at the City Hall Cafe.

He draws up a list of items to buy and, on Mondays, goes shopping with his teacher.

Then its back to City Hall where he and other special needs students in Haverhill High School’s Learning for Life program begin a week of cooking and serving customers ranging from members of the public to hungry city employees.

The lunch menu one week this month featured egg salad wraps, tacos, French onion soup, chicken salad wraps and tomato Florentine soup — depending on the day of the week. The breakfast menu usually features items such as toast and bagels, hot breakfast sandwiches, freshly brewed coffee, homemade muffins and breads, juices and snacks.

“I like to cook and have always wanted to be a chef,” said Caba, who is in his second year with this school-to-career transition program.

The cafe is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. during the school year and for several weeks in the summer. Students, who are supervised by site manager Theresa Diffin, prepare and serve breakfast and lunch and make sure they take good care of their customers.

“We deliver to offices in the building and we’ll even cater meetings,” Caba said. “It’s a lot of fun and I’m learning a lot about the food industry.”

Through the Learning for Life program, students like Caba, 19, are gaining real life work skills intended to help them find meaningful employment once they reach age 22 and must leave the program.

Whether they’re surrounded by books they are looking to sell in their little store in the basement of City Hall, tending to a hot pot of soup on a stove in the City Hall Cafe or stocking Hillie shirts and jerseys in the high school store, they’ve all found a little piece of work heaven.

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