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#OTGYpsi: Ypsilanti's 'Work & Play Cafe' will welcome people of all skills and abilities


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: New Ypsi Township cafe offers jobs for people with disabilities and inclusive atmosphere for all

Work & Play Cafe

Skill & Ability Education (SAE)


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to the return of our regular weekly feature On the Ground Ypsi. I'm David Fair, and it's kind of a bittersweet day. We're so happy to get back up and running, but this was a passion project of our Lisa Barry. Lisa sadly passed away in November of last year. She loved getting together every week with On the Ground Ypsi project manager Sarah Rigg, through our content partnership with Concentrate Media and making a difference in the community. Together, and through the very special guests they would bring in each week, we all got to share in the stories of those working in Ypsilanti to improve equity, quality of life in solution-oriented ways. Sarah, I'm no Lisa Barry, but I am happy to get to work with you to continue sharing the stories you write, the guests you bring, and the difference they're making.

Sarah Rigg: Thanks, David.

David Fair: We do have a special guest in topic today, but before we dive in, Sarah, I think it appropriate to offer you an opportunity to share your experiences and working with Lisa and what that relationship meant to you.

Sarah Rigg: Absolutely. Her passing is such a loss for the local news community. She was a voice for Ypsilanti, not just through my program, but through the other programs that she did. She was, you know, so smart and sensitive and so positive. And, you know, it's a real loss for the community of losing Lisa. But I appreciate you stepping in, David.

David Fair: Well, thank you for sharing. An entire station staff and community of listeners share in the loss, and the best we can do is carry on with the heart and spirit that Lisa brought to On the Ground Ypsi and do so in her name. Now, today our guest and topic have a lot of the hallmarks that Lisa appreciated and respected and that I deeply care about: inclusion, diversity, and community building, all touched with hope and optimism. What led you to the new Work and Play Cafe in Ypsilanti, Sarah, that will open at the end of the month?

Sarah Rigg: Well, this is just a testament to the On the Ground project that the longer I do this, the more people send me story ideas. And so, a family friend of the owners of the Work and Play Café, Yen Azzaro, introduced one of the owners to me via email. I thought, you know, this is just perfect. This has big On the Ground energy. So, I definitely knew I had to pursue it immediately.

David Fair: Well, I'm happy to say that joining us now is the co-founder of the Work and Play Café, Steve Berg, and thank you so much for making time for us today, Steve. I appreciate it.

Steve Berg: Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here.

David Fair: I suspect, just based on the name, that people may not get a true idea on the mission and vision that you and your wife and partner, Amy Berg, are working for and towards. Define it for us, if you don't mind.

Steve Berg: Sure. Work and Play Café is promoting a mission of inclusion, community, and it's really meant to be kind of an extension of our founded and established business, which is skill and ability education. In that business, we provide vocational rehabilitation services for individuals with disabilities, and so, we decided we wanted to kind of create another space where individuals community can come together, promote inclusion, understanding, a place for everybody, also have fun because work can be fun, but play is....

David Fair: It's more fun.

Steve Berg: Fun as well. Yeah. So, that's kind of how we came up with the idea. And it's conveniently located at 444 North Hewitt in Ypsilanti, between Packard and Washtenaw. It is two doors down from our Skill and Ability Education offices. So very convenient for us as well as we're getting things started and preparing for the grand opening. And, you know, very much looking forward to that and seeing how this can build within the community.

David Fair: And, once again, that grand opening will be March 17, specifically, I believe. Correct?

Steve Berg: That is correct. Yeah.

David Fair: On the Ground Ypsi continues on 89 one WEMU. I'm sitting alongside our partner, Sarah Rigg, from Concentrate Media and our guest, Steve Berg, who is launching the Work and Play Café. Steve, you were special education teacher and your wife, Amy, and partner, was a school counselor before launching that venture you referred to--Skill and Ability Education. What about the last four years in this work experience has caused the two of you to look at ways to expand what you do with the new cafe?

Steve Berg: Good question. Yeah, I mean, a lot of the work that we do with Skill and Ability Education, it has a very specific focus related to skill building for employment or helping individuals to find employment that is a good fit for them, which is great. Provides great quality of life, earn a living. But we also wanted to see if we could, you know, kind of expand upon that and to kind of more leisure activity in creating a space that, you know, is very understanding, inclusive, collaborative, in order to be able to come together and share a cup of coffee, something to eat, have their kids play in our playroom, use the game room where we have a video game system, work room that has computers people can use, you know, so there's kind of something for everybody, for all ages and abilities. And we wanted to have a space that is connected to and very similar to our mission at Skill and Ability Education and Vocational Rehabilitation Services--

David Fair: And yet has its own identity.

Steve Berg: But yeah. It has its own identity. And, you know, it's just kind of a more casual, comfortable space where people can kind of come and go as they please or host an event or a whole bunch of different things that can happen within the Work and Play Cafe space that we have.

David Fair: You know, so much of life is outcome-based. Everybody is interested in what are the outcomes going to be? Sarah, you had occasion to talk with some folks that have hired people through SAE. What did they have to say?

Sarah Rigg: Yeah. So I talked to the talent manager for Busch's. His name is Jeremy Ortiz. And he was saying that Skills and Ability Education was quote unquote great community partner. He said that, you know, they were really great to work with. Basically, some of the clients come through for...it's really similar to a paid internship, and some of them go on to be hired full-time jobs at Busch's. But, if not, then they get that work experience and can use that to apply elsewhere.

David Fair: And, Steve, I'm sure there has to be a great deal of pride in hearing such responses, but there's also a personal component to this for you. You and your wife Amy adopted three sons, all of whom have disabilities. In putting your professional experiences to work within your family and your family experiences to work in your career, what differences do you see for those who are made to feel included and valued?

Steve Berg: I mean, the quality of life that comes out of finding employment or building skills, or being able to be successful within the world of work, it's amazing. It's amazing to see the success that our clients have and that feeling of quality of life and pride and commitment and motivation and initiative and all of those things that come from being understood, being supported, and working together in order to find something that is a good fit for somebody's employment-related or to help them build skills that are going to lead to some eventual competitive employment and to be able to do that, like, on an individualized basis, it is really very satisfying, gratifying work. And it also, you know, thinking of my sons who are pre-teen years and imagining them growing up in the world, I'm just very hopeful for them that the similar services Work and Play Cafe promoting inclusion and really getting the community more on board and understanding of inclusion and how we can all work together in order to have really amazing successful outcomes continues to grow and to be something that, you know, they really take pride in and are able to be part of, too, as they continue to grow.

David Fair: Once again, you're listening to On the Ground Ypsi on 891 WEMU. And, Steve Berg, you recently held an open house of the Work and Play Cafe. What was the public response?

Steve Berg: It was good. I mean, it snowed that morning, so I was a little bit worried, a little bit worried at what the turnout would be. And I don't know the exact numbers, but we did have some good turnout. Yen Azzaro, who you mentioned, Sarah, she stopped by, and we got a picture of her and a couple of our staff members with her mission mural that she created for us. We had several other people that came by, some current and former clients, and some special education teachers, a lot of people that we know from the community. So it was really a good response. And, you know, we're very much looking forward to continuing to spread the word about inclusion and Work and Play Cafe, Skill and Ability Education, you know, hopefully getting a steady flow of people coming in and out and, you know, different events that we can have in the space, like karaoke, game night, movie night, you know, Special Olympics events. So, I'm very, very excited for the day-to-day, as well as those special events and using the spaces in a way that's going to be really inclusive and fun for everybody involved.

David Fair: Well, you just heard what Steve had to say, Sarah. So, in talking with he and his wife Amy, and kind of exploring what they do and how they go about their business, what was your takeaway?

Sarah Rigg: Well, we talked a lot about the importance of inclusion about it not just being for people with disabilities. Inclusion is good for everybody, the diversity that they bring to their work, and they have strengths and weaknesses, and it's important to acknowledge the strengths that they bring to work, to leisure, you know, to all of their interactions. So, inclusion is not just about, you know, helping out the poor, unfortunate people, it's about including everybody and making everybody's experience richer.

David Fair: And, Steve, it is often said that if you don't see the world you want, go build it. And it seems like the next year and structuring that foundation for you.

Steve Berg: Yeah, I agree. I mean, we've worked pretty hard here over the last four years through Skill and Ability Education and have that pretty well established with our Vocational Rehabilitation Services. And we're just very excited to see how things take off here with Work and Play Cafe and how those two entities can kind of work together to continue to build that understanding of diversity, community, and inclusion within Washtenaw County and beyond.

David Fair: Well, thank you for coming in and sharing your story today. I'm most grateful.

Steve Berg: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

David Fair: That is Steve Berg, owner of Skill and Ability Education and the soon-to-open Work and Play Cafe. It officially opens on March 17th. Sarah, what are you working on for next week?

Sarah Rigg: I am working on a piece about a local nonprofit that focuses on literacy and kind of some of the challenges they had to meet during the pandemic.

David Fair: Well, there were plenty of those, weren't there? I'll look forward to following up with another conversation. Sarah Rigg is On the Ground Ypsi project manager for Concentrate Media, and you can read her article on the Work and Play Cafe in full on their website. And you can get there by checking out our website at WEMU dot org. Then join us next Wednesday for another On the Ground Ypsi conversation. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM and HD One Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Sarah has been involved in journalism since she began producing a one-page photocopied neighborhood "newspaper" in grade school, later reporting for and then editing her high school paper. She has worked on staff at Heritage Newspapers and the (now defunct) Ann Arbor Business Review and has written as a freelancer for various publications ranging from The Crazy Wisdom Journal to the News-Herald to AnnArbor.com. She began writing for Concentrate in February 2017.
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