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Players Sports Bar San Diego

In July, Max Morpeth had a hard time looking anyone in the eye or carrying on a conversation with customers and employees at the newly opened coffee cart next to Players Sports Bar in Poway.

But two months into his five-day-a-week job as head brewer and cashier, the 22-year-old developmentally disabled man talks proudly, if haltingly, about the tasks he most enjoys and the friends he has made. Morpeth is one of six young adults with disabilities who staff the outdoor cart, which sits between the bar and the Poway office of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Launched this summer by Players Sports Bar owner Michael Pasulka and now run by the disabled services group The Arc of San Diego, it’s one of several local businesses providing job training and socialization skills to young adults who have aged out of the federal and state safety net programs. Pasulka, a past donor and volunteer for Arc, said he realizes the modest kiosk may never turn a profit, but the psychic pay he earns is more than worth the expense.

“I don’t look at it from the perspective of a businessman, but as a human being, ” Pasulka said. “I love seeing their increasingly outgoing personalities and the development of their skills in such a short amount of time. Two months ago, Max wouldn’t even talk to me and today he steps up, greets me and shakes my hand. I think that’s amazing progress.”

Taking orders and passing out menus on Friday morning under the supervision of several Arc job coaches was Alex Brinneman, 22. The Rancho Peñasquitos resident said she loves working at her first job and enjoys using her tip money to go bowling. Her mother, Claudia, said the job has made a tremendous difference in Alex’s life.

“It’s given her a purpose and self-esteem and it has made her feel valued and just like everyone else, ” Claudia said.

The nonprofit Arc was started in 1951 by a group of local parents and community members concerned about the lack of opportunities and educational options for the disabled. Today, the organization serves 2, 500 children and adults with disabilities in San Diego County. Although it provides services to families with disabled infants as well as the elderly, more than half of its budget is devoted to career services, said Jennifer Bates Navarra, Arc’s vice president of marketing and development.

Countywide, more than 800 disabled adults are working at companies that have partnered with Arc. The largest number, 250, are preparing and serving 15, 000 meals a day to new recruits at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. The companies donate time, materials and supervision and the workers’ salaries — based upon their abilities but usually half of minimum wage — are paid through state and other funding. Laura Orcutt, area director for Arc in North County, said the organization is always looking for partner businesses that are willing to hire disabled adults.

The coffee cart business was dreamed up last spring after Pasulka opened the Poway restaurant and noticed a huge line of people queuing up weekday mornings outside the DMV. He shared his observation with longtime family friend Jon Kurtin of Santa Luz. The retired attorney has a 22-year-old disabled daughter, Berni, who also recently aged out and had no career prospects. Together, they developed the side business which would employ young adults like Berni. It opened at the end of July and Berni said she has most enjoyed the responsibility of refilling the salt and pepper shakers and ketchup bottles.

“What’s best about this is every morning she wakes up and has somewhere to go, ” said Kurtin, who chairs Arc’s annual charity golf tournament. “They all just want what their siblings want, to maybe take a community college art class, go to work for a few hours a day and feel a sense of dignity in their own lives.”

The first shift of cart workers, three young men, arrive at 6:30 a.m. Monday through Friday to set things up, brew the coffee and transfer it into thermal dispensers. At 7 a.m., customers can begin ordering regular coffees, Nespresso lattes, soft drinks, bottled water, muffins, breakfast bars, chips and hot items. At 9 a.m., the second shift of three women arrive. The shop closes at 11 a.m., after which the workers clean up and take turns counting the money in the cash drawer and tip jar. Their work is overseen by Arc job coaches, who on Friday where helping the employees take orders, steam milk and count out change.

Business has been slower than expected at the coffee cart because the kiosk is hidden between two buildings and DMV customers haven’t come over to order as much as expected. But Pasulka said as word spreads in the community about the kiosk, local residents are beginning to add a visit to their morning routine. Pasulka said he’s also been extremely pleased to promote one of the cart workers.

Carls Rieta, 20, of Poway, has been such a productive and dedicated worker that Pasulka recently hired him to help out with dishwashing and food prep in the kitchen on Sunday afternoons. Rieta said working at his first job has been a great experience.

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