Jacob is more than just an employee at Cafe 50, a restaurant and coffee shop on the Microsoft campus; he’s an Ambassador. The job title is printed on his uniform apron, and he points to it proudly.
“He has a huge sense of pride,” says his mother Jeanette. “It’s his first real, paying job. He has a uniform. He’s treated like just another member of the team.”
Jacob got his job busing trays and tidying tables at Cafe 50 through School to Work, a program where Northwest Center works with students in King County graduating from their high school transition program, helping them find a place in the workforce. According to Northwest Center Transition Services Manager Melanie Cates, both Microsoft and Compass Group, the company that manages the cafe, have greatly boosted their inclusive hiring efforts.
“One of the executives [at Microsoft], who has a child with a disability, challenged the vendors on campus to start thinking about ways they could customize positions,” she explains. “Compass Group has run with the idea. I don’t know the exact number of job placements on this campus, but it’s well above 50.”
It was a big deal for Jacob, who lives in a small town east of Seattle, to find a job he loves. “We started out with a different employment agency,” says Jeannette. “Until we connected with Northwest Center, we were only exploring things in our very immediate community; it was very, very limited. Northwest Center listened and really understood that I wanted to explore more than just our small town. Jacob got a wonderful job, which he loves.”
Jacob is a man of few words, but his enthusiasm for his work is obvious. He moves quickly between tables, removing used cutlery, stacking trays, and keeping a sharp eye out for departing diners.
“I clean tables two days a week, Monday and Friday,” he says as he wipes a tabletop.
Is it a fun place to work? “Yes!” he says emphatically. “I get to see my friends [and coworkers] Darian, Jessica.” When one of the other Ambassadors interjects, “Tell them what you like to do for fun!” Jacob laughs and says, “Get the head chef’s hat.”
“He has great banter with his coworkers,” says Cates.
“That’s very important,” says Jeannette. “He’s making friendships that are not just at school; they’re actually people out in the public. That’s really huge.”
But the fun Jacob has never impacts the hard work he does.
“Sometimes he’s like, ‘I can’t talk to you right now, I need to stay focused!’” says Cates.
“We get busy right about now,” Jacob says, surveying the lunchtime crowd. “When Darian goes on his lunch break, sometimes I take his tray, too. Just to be helping out.”
“He notices when people need help and just jumps in,” Cates says. “Taking carts back, all on his own, things no one ever asks him to do.”
Jacob’s coworker Hany, a barista with the cafe for more than 12 years, confirms this. “We love Jacob. He is so smart,” Hany says. “He wants to help. He knows how to do things because he watched me do it.”
“He’s taken the initiative to do his job,” says Jeannette.
“It’s been nice to hear about Jacob’s professional growth here,” Cates says. “He’s seen people who he started working with getting promotions and moving to other cafes, so he’s part of that dialogue now: ‘How can I grow?’ He’s talked to his boss about different things he could learn.”
Whatever skills he ends up mastering, it’s clear that Jacob plans to learn them at Cafe 50. He says with certainty, “I’m staying here.”
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.