Every cafe has a one-of-a-kind backstory, right? That’s especially true in Happy Valley. But to get to the bottom of Good Day Cafe’s story, we need to start at the beginning.
In 1972, Strawberry Fields came to fruition. With a family wanting to make an impact on the State College area, the first step in the nonprofit’s journey was to develop group homes for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Strawberry Fields celebrated its 50th anniversary on April 19, recognizing the success of bringing 13 group homes to the area it originated in. After the group homes were established, two residential services for adults with mental illness rose to the surface. Since the start of the organization, Strawberry Fields’s overarching mission remains the same: “enhance the lives of individuals and families with developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, and mental illness.”
“We always believed that a happy, healthy home was the most important thing,” Chief Executive Officer Cindy Pasquinelli said. “What we realized is that our folks needed a purpose other than a structured, typical day program for other people with disabilities.”
Because the day programs have always been the track organizations follow, there came a point where the unemployment rate for adults with disabilities was 80%. That’s when Strawberry Fields wanted to set an example “for other employers and see the value and the gifts that everybody has.”
“People with disabilities can contribute and can make a difference,” Pasquinelli said.
Because Strawberry Fields serves hundreds of people in its community, there needed to be more employment opportunities paired up with the residential areas. Seven years ago, a group of volunteers decided to open their first store named “Scraps & Skeins.” The store caters to all sewing and knitting needs with recycled and donated fabric.
In this shop located in Cato Park, those seven people employed were recovering from mental illness. Strawberry Fields noticed the purpose being instilled in its volunteers and employees.
That’s when Good Day Cafe came to life.
“That store launched Good Day Cafe,” Pasquinelli. “We saw the impact of that job on these individuals.”
In 2017, Strawberry Fields wrote a grant to the Centre Foundation that opened Good Day Cafe. Not long after in 2018, the cafe had its opening at 286 W. Hamilton Avenue in State College.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the team was worried that its staff wouldn’t return, and people were surely done going out to eat for a while. But ever since students came back to campus, Good Day Cafe is back to where it was “pre-pandemic.”
No matter when, Good Day Cafe seeks to provide meaningful employment to adults with disabilities.
“We currently employ a variety of individuals with every kind of disability. We don’t discriminate,” Pasquinelli said. “We wanted it to be a place where the community can come and see the values of these individuals. But more importantly, [the employees] have an opportunity to be in the community with people who are not disabled.”
Since noting their start, Pasquinelli and her team saw firsthand the friendships the employees were making with customers. The typical program that is usually implemented into the lives of people with disabilities doesn’t have the quality of creating those natural community relationships.
At Good Day Cafe, employees have the choice to be a barista, a cashier, a baker, and more interactive positions. The cafe not only bakes all of its own products but has partnered with local businesses to provide their drinks. If Rothrock Coffee, a local staple, rings a bell, it might be because it’s also served at Good Day Cafe.
“That partnering with other local businesses really, really helped us,” Pasquinelli said.
When individuals with disabilities are hired, they start in a position called “barista backs” to learn all the ins and outs of the job. From working the espresso machine to opening and closing the restaurant, they then progress to whatever position they “feel good doing and are best at.”
Strawberry Fields Chief Financial Officer Andrea Cook has been with the organization for quite some time now, all while experiencing the love that employees’ families share with the team.
“Here at the cafe, with the employees that we have, it’s not just the employee we spend time with and work with. It’s their family,” Cook said. “They’re just as excited and thrilled to bring their children here.”
Cook and Pasquinelli even reminisce that when the cafe first opened, the employees loved it so much that they wanted to stay open for Christmas. They wanted to be with their family for Christmas, and that was the cafe.
There are employees that have been with the cafe from the start. Now, all employees show their dedication to the cafe. For example, cashier Zack Williams, who is mostly there every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, has three jobs in total while also playing on an ice hockey team. While he’s at the cafe, he recognizes all of the regulars and how much he loves his time there.
“Anything you want to do or accomplish, Cindy is going to be the best person to help. I love my job here,” Williams said.
You might even recognize Zack from his star-studded weekend at Penn State’s Blue-White Game, where he served as the Nittany Lions’ honorary coach.
Now that the business is back up and running, Good Day Cafe’s team is focusing on ways to hold events inside and outside of the cafe. Embracing its mission, engaging with the community, going to more local events, and expanding highlight the team’s goals. Even the future of taking Good Day Cafe on the road in a food truck is in the works.
“You want to change anything? You want to do anything big? You have to get people who are so connected with [your mission],” Pasquinelli said.
In July, the cafe will host an all-around celebration for awards. Before then, on June 4, a local fundraiser will be held to welcome individuals from around the region to raise funds for Good Day Cafe and celebrate Strawberry Fields’s 50th anniversary.
To keep up with Good Day Cafe’s business and events, you can follow its Instagram page and website. For more overarching Strawberry Fields content, check in on Instagram, too.
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