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Young adults with disabilities get job skills at Mychal’s Bakery & Coffee at Torrance hospital

L-R Andrew Mathews, Caelyn Griffith and Kate McLaughlin run Mychal’s Bakery & Coffee at Torrance Memorial Hospital. The café training and employment program, by Mychal’s Learning Place in Hawthorne, teaches job skills to youth who live with disabilities and spread awareness of these young adults’ capabilities. (Photo by Tyler Shaun Evains/Daily Breeze, SCNG)

Torrance Memorial Hospital got to keep its café and Mychal’s Learning Place in Hawthorne got a space to train and employ young adults with developmental disabilities for the professional world.

Mychal’s Bakery & Coffee opened at Torrance Memorial this fall. Carly Lopilato, the cafe’s manager, asked hospital staff a few months ago if the nonprofit could put its cookies in Torrance Memorial’s cafeteria. But staff instead offered Mychal’s team the chance to take over and run it.

The hospital’s own café was closing because it wasn’t making enough money, Mychal’s Place founder Ed Lynch said.

“‘We could run this,’” Lynch thought, after he saw the place.

The café started in 2015 as a kitchen-sized bakery inside Mychal’s Place, a nonprofit organization that helps youth who live with developmental disabilities build independence and pursue their goals, pumping out chocolate chip cookies to sell at pop-up events like the Manhattan Beach Holiday Fireworks, Lynch said.

“We realized we had something there,” Lynch said. “So we started a pop-up barista service.” They also remodeled the kitchen into a full bakery.

Six years later, Mychal’s Bakery & Coffee has set up shop beside the Torrance Memorial Specialty Center . The café is run by young adults in the Mychal’s Place adult program, Path to Independence, Lynch said. And, occasionally, students outside of the organization join the barista team.

Lopilato has just been hired on to an educational role at Mychal’s Place when she was put on bakery duty, she said, so she and her trainees are all learning a new trade together.

Mychal’s Bakery & Coffee trainees and employees learn to make espresso drinks, use cash registers, read and apply baking recipes, serve customers skills and more.  All trainees get their California Food Handler’s certification.

Workers come on as trainees and can accept tips, Lynch said. Staffers can get hired as a paid employee once their skills have grown.

The café also offers catering for offices and events around the community.

“(The program is) creating awareness that these kids are able,” Lynch said. “Just because (they have) a disability doesn’t mean they aren’t capable or employable.”

The training is the most important part, he added, because the skills are transferable to other jobs.

The café’s mission is to change society’s perception about people with developmental disabilities, according to Mychal’s website.

There’s an 85% unemployment rate among people with disabilities, Lynch said, so he hopes that when someone from Mychal’s applies to a job somewhere, a stakeholder at that business will patronize the bakery and see staff members in action and why they deserve employment opportunities.

“The more community awareness, the more we’re in front of people the better chance we have at getting students employed,” Lynch said.

Caelyn Griffith, 26, has been working at the café inside Torrance Memorial since it opened. She does everything from make brownies, stack sandwiches and make lattes.

Lynch, attesting to her rigor, said that the engaging Griffith can do it all. Six trainees rotate shifts every day, he added, but Griffith is there five days a week.

Her favorite task is to coffee drinks, Griffith said, especially her specialty — chocolate mocha.

“It’s been a dream of mine to be an employee with Mychal’s café,” Griffith said.

Trainee Andrew Mathews, 25, has been working there for two weeks, he said, and is “loving it.”

“They said they needed one (more) guy,” Mathews added, “That’s me.”

He enjoys serving people coffee cakes and blueberry muffins, Mathews said, and particularly making hot chocolate. He’s currently learning how to take orders.

Feeding people is “how I like supporting the community,” Mathews added.

Lynch’s team is planning to run a café at Mattel in El Segundo once the company reopens, he said. Mychal’s in 2016 ran a café in Mattel for a bit.

Mychal’s is currently looking to buy a building for a standalone bakery and café, Lynch said, to reach a wider community.

Mychal’s Learning Place in 2019 also opened Mychal’s Print and Embroidery in Inglewood, and is soon moving to a new location in Hawthorne. The idea, Lynch said, is for these social enterprises to allow Mychal’s Place to support itself.

“It’s not a novelty approach to social enterprise,” Lynch said, “This (bakery) is run as if it’s a for profit although it’s non-profit.”

Mychal’s Bakery & Coffee, 2841 Lomita Blvd., Torrance, is open from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.



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