CORDOVA, Tenn. — Mary Ellen, 14, was born with down syndrome and a heart defect, but she doesn’t let that stop her from lending a helping hand at her family’s café.
Her mother, Diane Grover, opened Dream Big Café in March on World Down Syndrome Day.
“The mission of the café is to have a job for my daughter when she’s 21,” Grover said. “We were worried when she became an adult that she wouldn’t have a vocation of her own and if she did, would it be a safe environment.”
With the help of a sidekick, Mary Ellen does everything from wiping down tables to refilling napkin holders.
“She’s not as verbal as most people, but her actions, she takes everything in and she can do a lot of things,” Grover said.
“She’s just not going to be a conversationalist at this time.”
Since the Café opened its doors, Grover has used the space to help train others with disabilities like her daughter.
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Through her Dreamers Gives Back Foundation, individuals participate in a six-week training program.
“And then eventually, the goal is that they will go out into the Memphis area with their sidekick working in a business,” Grover explained.
Kathy Marcuzzo is a sidekick at Dream Big Café.
“One on one is the key,” Marcuzzo said.
“Short shifts. The two hours so we can build a relationship with them and trust.”
Grover said she hopes the café can help remove the stigma associated with those who have disabilities.
“For a long time, individuals with disabilities have been institutionalized,” Grover said.
“And the model is a medical model of kind of keeping it away from society and we want people to come together and see what could be in a café. What better way than a café!”
Dream Big Café is located on the property of Vantage Point Golf Center in Cordova.
Grover is also the owner of Dreamers Merchants Coffee.
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