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Community Café Sundays: Down Syndrome Academy Students Work at Local Café

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Down Syndrome Academy students at SmooTea

SmooTea presents Community Cafe from 12-6 p.m. every Sunday with students from the Down Syndrome Academy running the restaurant to raise money for a new building. Pictured are (from left) Down Syndrome Academy students David Rocha, Noe Lara, SmooTea owner Samantha Le, SmooTea manager Dat Nguyen, students Martha Roquemore and Cory Evans. (Photo: Dorothy Puch Lillig)

This Sunday, Dec. 16, 12-6 p.m. SmooTea, a teahouse located in West University, is kicking off their new Sunday Community Café program, which supports Houston’s Down Syndrome Academy (DSA), Houston’s school for adults with Down syndrome. 

DSA teaches classes for six developmental levels of students diagnosed with Down syndrome: academics, wellness, nutrition, physical fitness, speech, community engagement, vocational training, music and social skills.

Samantha and her husband, Chi Le, opened SmooTea, which serves teas, smoothies and Vietnamese sandwiches, in a former pharmacy this past May.  The store isn’t usually open on Sundays, which made it the perfect day to bring in students from Houston’s Down Syndrome Academy, part of Friends of Down Syndrome, to run the shop.

Samantha was inspired by a coffee shop in Wilmington, NC, called Bitty & Beau, which she saw on TV. The owners of Bitty & Beau have twins with Down syndrome, and their coffee shop is operated by employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Samantha explained, “On Community Café Sundays, SmooTea will serve a limited menu of two different bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches) and a variety of drinks. The students from the Down Syndrome Academy, withthe help of volunteer job coaches, will be making all the menu items, as well as greeting customers and keeping the restaurant neat and clean. The last few Sundays, the students have been working hard training to run the shop.”

All proceeds from Community Café Sundays will go to the Friends of Down Syndrome’s capital campaign for a new campus so they can accommodate more students. 

The nonprofit will also be selling items the students made at their school, including beautiful wooden birdhouses constructed and hand-painted by the adults with Down syndrome.

Friends of Down Syndrome president Rosa Rocha shared, “Our organization and the Le family hope the partnership leads to other job opportunities for the students from the Down Syndrome Academy.  Several students from the Academy already have jobs but opportunities are few and far between.” 

The Community Café Sundays will give the Academy students on-the-job experience they can use to apply for other positions.

Community Café Sundays is kicking off Dec. 16 and will pause for the holiday season; it’ll start up again on Sun., Jan. 6 and take place every Sunday, 12-6 p.m. Stop by to enjoy the special treat of being served by the students. We know it will be some of the most touching experiences you’ve ever had. 

For more on the topic of careers for adults with special needs, check out Working It: Careers for adults with autism by Michelle Casas Groogan, plus a list of resources.

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