by Anna Paustenbach

Adults enrolled in Esperanza Community Services’ new WorkReady vocational program, launched in September, have spent the last two months developing a solid foundation of job readiness skills. They are sharpening these skills on campus at Esperanza in one of four vocational categories: Food Service, Fine Arts and Creative Studies, Industrial Skills and Maintenance, and Service and Hospitality. Participants enrolled in the Food Service group, for example, report every day to the Esperanza Café, an on-campus coffee shop experience. “I say hello and help take the orders,” says Tabitha, a WorkReady barista. “We help each other. I do a good job with the coffee.” WorkReady baristas are learning practical skills like taking drink orders, managing money, and customer services, skills that are valuable for many industries. WorkReady participants are also gaining a sense of purpose.

“We’re making sure that Esperanza participants have opportunities to continue to grow and learn new skills,” says David Stupay, executive director . “WorkReady is a way for adults with developmental disabilities to reach that next step and remain connected to our community.”

In the Industrial Skills group, participants like Lawrence and Natasha grow vocational skills by working with Esperanza’s facilities manager to keep workshops stocked with supplies and leading the agency’s recycling efforts. Through the Fine Arts and Creative Studies group, WorkReady is also helping adults who are inclined toward more creative vocations. For example, WorkReady curators are charged with selecting art created by Esperanza artists for display at exhibits throughout the city, including an exhibit that was featured at Northern Trust through October. Bobby Tirelli, a Workready art curator and artist, says he likes his new role. “We all work together and we create compassion,” says Bobby. “We did a good job at Northern Trust. The ladies loved it, the gentlemen loved it, everybody loved it.”

Now, WorkReady participants are getting ready to put the skills they have been learning into practice at Esperanza’s Fall Arts Fest, Thursday, November 15. The Fall Arts Fest will feature works ofart and photography by Esperanza artists, as well as a DJ set by Esperanza participant Clarence, also known as DJ Heartbreak Kid. Workready hospitality participants will greet guests, curators will discuss their art, and baristas will serve up Julius Meinl coffee. Guests will also have the opportunity to create art with participants, as well as sample and place their order for Esperanza’s Gourmet Fudge, created by renowned Chicago chef Jackie Shen. Chef Jackie has led the production of Esperanza’s Gourmet Fudge, which will be available after Thanksgiving, for more than 10 years.

Esperanza’s Fall Arts Fest is Thursday, November 15 from 6:00 – 8:00 PM at Esperanza Community Services, 520 N. Marshfield, Chicago. Tickets include beer, wine and snacks. The event is sponsored by the French Pastry School, Julius Meinl, and Vanille Patisserie. Tickets are $20 and are available here. For information, please call 312.243.6097 x 31.

Photo features WorkReady participants Clarence, Bobby, Marlon and Tabitha in the Esperanza Café.