I adore coffee!
I was sitting in my favourite coffee shop, Ground Control in George drinking a superb cafe latte, and talking to two incredibly interesting women, Di and Tegan Phillips. Tegan was telling me about the triathlon that she had recently completed around New Zealand. This adventure raised money to fund bicycles for school children in Africa. I subsequently wrote a blog about this mind blowing feat. Di, Tegan’s mum, caught my interest when she mentioned opening a craft cafe in the near future. This cafe would employ people with special needs.
“Do you mean, that the customers will be served by people with disabilities?” I asked.
“Yes,” Di answered. “It will be called Lucy G in memory of Lucy Geel (née Garaghty). Lucy tragically died of complications soon after having a baby. She had a sister with special needs and she loved her dearly. Lucy was always incredibly supportive of people with any kind of disability.”
I thought back to those years following my fall, when I battled with myself – inside and out. I came home from hospital a babe in arms. Finally, after years of every kind of therapy, I was able to walk but with a very humbling, noticeable limp, and my spastic right hand would still fly off into it’s own delicious contusions. People could finally understand what I said. And thankfully, I had learnt to read again.
But inside I wept.
Who was this ‘creature’? I didn’t like the term ‘disabled’ or being a person with ‘special needs’! For goodness sakes, I was still – ME! Only this ‘me’ had changed drastically. I tossed and turned in bed at night, my sleep disjointed and broken. What was this ex-actress now meant to do? What could I do? Who would ever employ someone like me, someone ‘disabled’, someone with ‘special needs’? I spat out to myself.
I hated what I had become.
Fortunately, my ‘Di’ took the form of two old friends, Maralin Vanrenen and Janice Honeyman. They donned their Fairy Godmother robes, stepped in and changed my life. I received this fax from Maralin, four years after my fall.
I told you six months after your accident that you would never act again. I still stand by that, G. But there is no reason why you shouldn’t perform as yourself telling your story. Janice Honeyman, the artistic director at The Civic Theatre agrees with me and has offered to put on your show. You open in April!
The person who had considered herself unemployable, worked flat out with Maralin to create my first one woman show, My Plunge to Fame. I could no longer remember words yet Maralin devised a way for me to tell my story differently each night. My show sold out during it’s first run at The Civic with me returning later in the year to another sold out season. I performed My Plunge to Fame throughout South Africa for a year. In 2000, I wrote my book, My Plunge to Fame and I then became a motivational speaker and a blog writer. This ‘unemployable’ person was once more employed!
It was through Maralin and Janice’s belief in me, that I came to believe in myself once more. I regained my self esteem. I thought about this whilst considering Di wonderful craft cafe plan.
“Let me know when your cafe opens, Di. I will be a very enthusiastic customer.”
A couple of weeks ago, I walked into Lucy G, Di’s craft cafe in Kirstenhof, Cape Town. What a hive of activity met my eyes! It was Friday and on Fridays, Di gives a workshop to special needs young adults regardless of their disabilities. I smiled to myself. There were people in wheelchairs, who couldn’t move their arms to make the planter box that Di was showing the class how to devise. That didn’t matter. These young adults sat with a smile on their faces, merely enjoying being a part of the good natured hullabaloo that was taking place around them. I watched a young man determinedly screwing screws into his box. He was taking a long time but he was doing it with so much care. On one side of the box, he had painted two red guinea fowls. On the longer side were flowers in gold and yellows.
I loved that planter box.
I asked Di what had motivated her to start the craft cafe?
“As an Occupational Therapist, I worked specifically with young disabled people. I used craft activities and life skill programs to build up their confidence and knowledge. Think of what happens to them after they leave school – if they ever went?”
That notion had never crossed my mind.
“The idea of them spending the next forty years of their lives staying at home or else in a protective workshop is an utterly dour and depressing thought for me. Trying to find a meaningful and productive workspace for them is a massive challenge. Their parents and I racked our brains and then we hit upon the idea of a craft cafe. There was no place in the southern suburbs of Cape Town that offered a space where people can make a personalised item for themselves or a friend. Or a place where they can simply come in for a coffee, light meal and chat. And best of all, it can offer work to disabled poeple. And that was how Lucy G came into being. These young people are perfectly capable of working. We have simply adopted a different approach when it comes to showing them how to do things”.
“Yes, I saw how you put instructions on making sandwiches on a board in the kitchen. You didn’t write them. The instructions were done through pictures. So creative.”
“A lot of our staff have difficulty reading but by illustrating what needs to be done via pictures, the sandwiches that they make are totally delicious!”
I had a cup of coffee that was made for me by the sweetest man, Mark. He took such delight in presenting it to me. Whilst taking my first sip, I was tapped on the shoulder and turned to a young woman’s enormous smile.
“Didn’t you write that book?” she asked.
“Yes, My Plunge to Fame. Have you read it?”
“Mum has. I recognised you from the photos in the book. Please,” she suddenly appeared shy, “won’t you give me your autograph? Here is a paper and pen.”
Finding out that her name was Leigh, I duly wrote: “With a big smile, sweet Leigh, I kiss your eyes – X!”
Ten minutes before I left, Leigh presented me with a beautiful drawing. With pride, she pointed out her name in the left hand corner. I was tremendously moved.
“This will go up on my fridge door at home. Every day, Leigh, I will be reminded of you!”
Lucy G is currently employing fourteen disabled people and training three others. There is a waiting list. Staff get paid standard wages according to the Labour Laws and they have a work contract. It is not a day care centre. It is a business that happens to employ disabled young adults. At the moment, the management team work voluntarily and there are about twelve other volunteers who help out in Lucy G but having more support would be lovely. They attend for a few hours a week to provide supervision for the disabled staff and as back up either in the kitchen, cafe or craft section. I was delighted to meet a volunteer, Lynette, whose sister was going out with an old acting friend of mine. She also knew Shirley Johnston, the editor of my book. Small world, isn’t it?
This delightful craft cafe is providing employment for people with disabilities, delicious coffee, healthy refreshments and innovative crafting activities for everyone. It is offering so much to so many and changing perceptions of abilities in a natural way. It’s fulfilling its vision to enhance the lives of people with disabilities through being able to work, earn a salary and live as independently as possible. But it is early days and would really benefit from some additional outside financial assistance.
It was through Maralin and Janice’s belief in me, that I came to believe in myself. Yes, I was disabled but that didn’t mean that life had passed me by. Life shouldn’t be defined by how society deems you should look or behave. I have discovered that the more you put into life, the more life showers upon you. Di, her brilliant staff and volunteers are putting a tremendous amount of effort into making a success of Lucy G. So, the ‘showers’ should start. I know that with Christmas approaching, they are receiving bookings for end of year functions. This is terrific but what they really need is a regular enthusiastic clientelle!
Lucy G, that wonderful craft cafe in Kirstenhof, needs it to shower, pour and deliciously flood.
Noah bring it on!!!!
If you or your company would like to get involved with this life changing initiative, please contact: Di Phillips
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
29 Silverwater Street