Imagine eating the best grilled cheese of your life while simultaneously supporting individuals who were previously considered unemployable. Liberty’s Station doesn’t want patrons to feel like they must choose between supporting a good cause or having a great lunch. Here, you can have both! The café recently opened in November 2022 and is already getting rave reviews from its guests.
Founder Jody Powers says it all started 8 years ago with Amelia’s Closet, an organization that provides clothing for women re-entering the workforce. They partnered with local organizations for volunteers, including adults with disabilities, to help sort the incoming donations. These volunteers truly enjoyed the opportunity to be productive and do something meaningful. This was when Powers realized she needed to do something more, and God gave her the vision for Liberty’s Station. Those with employment barriers are often never given a chance to start or are quickly let go because they can’t perform the job well. Powers saw the immense amount of potential and knew that individualized training and experience would set them up for success.
Liberty’s Station job program is a progressive workforce pipeline where most of the employees have a physical, intellectual, or developmental disability. The paid internship is designed to prepare them for long-term, gainful employment in the community. Assessments and training are provided by an occupational therapist and are unique to each individual’s abilities. Regular volunteers help the interns shine front and center but fill in gaps and assist where needed. Lunch guests have commented on how touching it is to see the staff so eager to work hard and do a great job.
The parents of the interns are extremely grateful. Knowing their children are gaining independence, security, and purpose gives them peace of mind for their future. One of the interns shared in a letter, “My parents have struggled for years trying to get someone to help me. You’re turning me into someone that I’ve always wanted to be. Thank you for recognizing that people with disabilities need help getting a job as well as holding a job. I’ve never loved a job like I love Liberty’s Station.”
The development of Liberty’s Station has been a work in progress for over 2 years. During that time, they became a hub for connecting with over 50 partners and organizations. Labor and flooring materials were provided, restaurants gifted equipment, chefs helped create the menu, farmers continually donate ingredients, and a local college fashion department constructed the aprons. With the help of local organizations, the space was designed to be aesthetically pleasing but also fully ADA-compliant in a low-sensory atmosphere. Powers says the response from the community has been amazing! They saw the need, recognized how big of an impact it could make, and it all came together beautifully.
While individual donors currently help support wages for the interns, Powers is already envisioning this to be a self-supported training program that also serves the community at large. For example, the commercial kitchen space is often rented by local food trucks or others needing preparation space. In addition, the building has both an event and office space for rent. Finally, they have a retail shop that carries goods from local artisans and regional craft makers who had employment barriers prior to starting their own companies. Looking ahead, Liberty’s Station is planning to expand to 6 days per week, with breakfast and specialty coffees coming soon. This growth will help them towards their goal of assisting 45 interns annually.
You can see the interns or “STARS” in action when you stop in for a bite at 850 NW Broad Street. Inside the café, you’ll also notice the large mosaic flag wall to honor and remember Veterans. To learn more about the “Raise The Flag” campaign or volunteering and sponsorship opportunities, visit libertysstationtn.org.