MIAMI - Chef Wendy Zacca, an instructor with Easterseals South Florida, runs a smooth kitchen. The majority of her workers are students with developmental disabilities.
"I've never set limitations," she said. "I treat them as if they were typically developing, and it seems to work for us."
The students, ages 14 to 22, are part of a culinary arts high school program that teaches them independent living skills.
"It's a predictable environment, so our students understand where they are going, what they're supposed to do," explained Camila Rocha, education services director for Easterseals South Florida.
Last year, the unemployment rate for people with a disability was almost three times the rate of those without. This program aims to change that.
"Whether it's to cook on a stove top, bake in the oven, wash dishes..." shared Zacca.
They focus on the individual's strengths with the goal to provide real life work experience after graduation.
"My job is to make sandwiches for the military," said Stuart Martinez, who landed a job with Easterseals after graduating in 2013. "It's a lot of work, but I'm really good at it as well."
The young people not only feel a sense of responsibility but a major sense of accomplishment.
"Allow them to work in the kitchen with you, allow them to clean the floor, allow them to wipe down the counters, let them be productive," said Zacca.
"Organizing, cutting up vegetables, gathering and organizing ingredients," said Carlos Ramos, a student chef.
Knowing they can do it gives them the confidence they need to move forward.
The culinary arts program in Miami is funded by the Children's Trust and, as you can imagine, it has a long waiting list.
Rocha said if you don't have a program like this where you live, reach out to the public schools in your area and see what vocational programs they offer. Also, you can contact your local Easterseals for more information.