In Michigan, at the age of 26, adults with developmental disabilities and cognitive impairment can no longer attend public schools; they age out of the system. For these individuals, this is a challenging and confusing time, suddenly, there is a huge void in their life, and they have nothing to do. It also adversely affects the family as they see their loved one struggle with what to do next. So in 2007, a group of like-minded people set out to open a restaurant to help fill that void and provide jobs in the greater Cadillac community. The original board was made up of retired school teachers, municipal workers, and private business people. When given a chance, adults with disabilities can perform effectively in the workplace. One other critical aspect of the mission is that our ‘Project Workers’ work and are seen in the public eye, not off in a corner doing piece work in a sheltered workshop. Not that sheltered workshops are bad, because a job is certainly better than no job at all and sitting at home. Part of our mission is also to inform and educate the public that developmentally disabled adults have the aptitude and the ability to perform in the workplace; they just need a chance. This need exists in Cadillac, throughout Michigan, and across the country.
The After 26 Project was originally inspired by a restaurant in Chesaning, Michigan, called the Junction of Hope. The Junction of Hope was the first non-profit 501(c)(3) restaurant in the USA, and we share their mission, which is to employ developmentally disabled & cognitively impaired adults in our community. Following their example, in the summer of 2008, the After 26 Project obtained tax-exempt status. It would take another five years to open the restaurant. This community-wide effort became a reality when the Depot opened on June 4th of 2013. Today the After 26 Project, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation, employs about 17 ‘Project Workers’ that perform various job tasks around the restaurant. Typical job responsibilities include greeting customers, taking water to tables, washing dishes, busing & cleaning tables, cleaning menus, janitorial duties, and related tasks. The Depot is overseen by a volunteer board of directors, with daily operations handled by a general manager.