New employment opportunities are around the corner for people with disabilities.
A group of suburban parents have formed Best Futures Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports families with disabilities. A cornerstone of its efforts is the launch of a concession stand at the in Highland Park, where visitors will soon be able to purchase snacks and beverages sold by people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Best Futures, which formed about two years ago, is composed of a core group of eight women who have a disabled family member. The founders, who include Buffalo Grove resident Gerilyn Miller-Brown, also hail from Northbrook, Highland Park, Deerfield and Skokie.
The organization, which developed its mission based on minimal housing, services and employment opportunities available for people with disabilities, attained nonprofit status from the state this summer. Its leaders are now applying for 501(c)(3) status.
“Right now we’re starting with some employment opportunities,” said Miller-Brown, who added that the group could address other areas in the future.
“Our focus is, our children should be part of the mainstream community,” she said.
The new concession stand is scheduled to open Jan. 7. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through the spring.
“Through this venture, our aim is to try to employ individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities while providing quality food services to the community,” Miller-Brown said.
Best Futures volunteers, their children and other suburban residents with disabilities will run the stand, selling and serving pizza, nachos, energy bars and beverages.
Assistance will be provided to employees who need it, and some might use visual cues to direct them through their tasks. Miller-Brown said assistive technology, including iPads, could be used to help the employees take customers’ orders.
The concession stand will employ workers 16 and older, and younger citizens will be invited to assist on a volunteer basis, she said.
In addition to income, the jobs will provide work experience and build workers’ self-esteem. And, Miller-Brown said, it’s going to create some positive images for the community.”
The concept is not a new one; Best Futures has received advice from volunteers at the Perk Center Café in Glenview, another venture that was founded by families with disabilities.
One of those parents, Skokie resident Ellen Bronfeld, is now working to get the Best Futures concession stand up and running.
She knows the value of such an operation. Her son, who is autistic, was the first employee hired when Perk Center Café opened three years ago. Now 25, he continues to serve its customers. The experience has given him increased independence and skills, said Bronfeld, who is also a member of the Best Futures executive board.
“In high school, he never learned to tie his shoes, but he learned to sign his name. He’s so thrilled to sign his paychecks,” Bronfeld said. “He loves to work. He will always choose work over everything else.”
The concession stands, she said, give young adults with disabilities a sense of purpose and pride.
“It’s not just to the benefit of [Best Futures members’] kids. It’s the benefit of the community. The fact that this group is focusing on this thrills me to no end,” Bronfeld said.
Disabled citizens who secure employment can also transition from Medicaid, which is provided through the government’s Supplemental Security Income program, to Medicare, which is available through the Social Security Disability Insurance program.
Best Futures is working to generate seed money to help get the concession stand off the ground and allow the organization to issue paychecks.
from 5-9 p.m. Dec. 5 at Stash's Restaurant in Highland Park. Tickets, which are $35 for adults and $25 for children under 10, include food and beverages and will be sold at the door (cash or check). A silent auction will also be held.
Proceeds will help the organization cover the cost of rental equipment for the concession stand. Bronfeld said as more revenue rolls in, employees will begin collecting paychecks.
Best Futures holds periodic meetings to learn about services for disabled residents and provide support for its members. In addition to Miller-Brown and Bronfeld, the organization's founders include Barb Cabin, Robynn Medansky and Lisa Whitefield of Highland Park; Betty Korey and Deborah Rudin of Deerfield; and Northbrook resident Lisa Eissman.
For more information about the organization or to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org.