By SALI McSHERRY
Sometimes it just takes sheer determination.
Mothers have it. Shari Hunter has it in spades. And, in this case, there were a few miracles along the way to realizing a dream to help those with exceptionalities. Born out of a love for their son, Derrick, who has Downs Syndrome and who graduated earlier this month from a pilot program at Kent State University, Shari and her husband, Nate, founded Two Foundation. Two Foundation is “a unique staffing agency seeking to enhance workplaces with the “sparkle” that comes from employing individuals with mild to moderate exceptionalities,” according to the nonprofit’s mission statement.
Mrs. Hunter, who is a licensed regular educator and intervention specialist, worked diligently to make Two Foundation into a private and certified service provider for the state and counties, which is approved for job placement.
At Two Foundation’s premier training center, “Two Café and Boutique” in Markets Square in Bainbridge, young people with mild to moderate cognitive abilities are transitioning to independence, Mrs. Hunter explained, and contributing to society. The café, which offers a wholesome and delicious menu such as the homemade pastas, flatbreads, vegan cream of tomato soup with chickpea croutons, sublime French toast with apple and pear compote, among the daily specials, is all about fresh, organic and “pure and clean” said cook John Hummer, who is helping Mrs. Hunter with the mission.
Along the journey Mrs. Hunter met David Cosentino, a seasoned chef, and former restaurant and catering company owner. He says he was “blessed with the opportunity.” Mrs. Hunter was so impressed with his experience and drive she offered him the position of head of business operations for Two Café. It was his expertise in the restaurant business and his connections that helped launch the training center.
Ohio’s Employment First Initiative mandates that businesses integrate individuals with special needs into the workplace, Mrs. Hunter said. And the foundation is working to promote that initiative.
Two Foundation provides job placement, job coaching and ongoing support for those with special needs, transportation to and from work, and classes and seminars, which are held at a nearby office building, courtesy of local businessman Frank Lanza.
A client of Two Foundation, the smiling Helen Charlton is an employee at Two Café, in charge of the register today. Mr. Hummer said she is his “ace in the hole,” helping with food preparation, serving, and anything that needs to be done. Ms. Charlton said she loves everything about Two Café. She has been in the restaurant business all her life. She recalled her aunt owned a catering business.
Client and employee Lauren Carson happily serves the clients, offering homemade granola bars and biscotti, local greens from Mantua Farms, fresh salmon, sandwiches, chicken parmesan and other treats. She said she “loves the people and the atmosphere” at Two Café and is very proud of the food they offer.
The blueberry bushes have been planted, and the farm that the foundation owns is up and running for spring, growing produce for the café.
The welcoming café is bright, with floor-to-ceiling windows, a wall chalkboard with all the specials of the day, and wallpaper with words like empower, love, peace, joy, and strive stamped on the walls. And did I mention the food is spectacular?!
Donations can be made at twofoundation.com.
Two Café and Boutique
8578 E. Washington St. Chagrin Falls, OH 44023
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday
8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays