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Farber Soul Center offers adults with special needs chance to excel in art, cafe jobs

Apr 18, 2017

You create a special space for children with special needs: the Friendship Circle.

It’s a great success, but what do you offer those children when they grow up?

“You know, for several years we had our lovely families, that are like family to us, calling and saying, ‘What are you doing with our kids? They’re sitting at home eating, playing video games. It’s not OK. My kid is getting depressed…’” said Bassie Shemtov, director of Friendship Circle.

That's the challenge that led Shemtov and her husband to develop another very special place, this one for adults with special needs.

Andy, a worker in the Soul Café, straightens a table.
Credit Lindsey Scullen / Michigan Radio

It’s called the Farber Soul Center.  

Located in West Bloomfield, the center offers adults with special needs job training in its Soul Café, and art training in its Soul Studio.

Participants in the Soul Café program pay a registration fee to participate and then receive minimum wage for each hour they work.

“One of our participants, the first one ever, was just told he has graduated the training program and now he is a full-fledged staff member of the Soul Café,” Shemtov said. “You can’t even imagine the excitement of this young man.”

Shemtov said the hope is that many participants will eventually find jobs outside the safety net of the Farber Soul Center.

In the Soul Studio, participants likewise pay a registration fee to participate. They then receive a 40% commission for each item they sell.

“We have every kind of medium you can think of – from digital arts, woodworking with a CNC machine, a laser cutter, ceramics, fine arts, painting, fibers, we have about 20 looms – you name it,” Shemtov said.

Her main hope is that artists feel excited to be productive in the studio. A secondary goal, she said, is for many to go on and build their own microbusinesses.

But Shemtov doesn't only have goals for the Farber Soul Center's participants. She hopes visitors to the café and art studio will learn something too.

“We want people to come in here, in the coolest restaurant [and café] ever, and say, ‘Wow, people with special needs, we’re not doing them a favor, they’re actually doing us a favor, because these individuals have that special, pure soul and when they come through, we are changed people,” she said. “We learn from them.”

Stateside went to the Farber Soul Center to hear from the people in the community. Take a listen below. For the full conversation, with director Bassie Shemtov, listen above.

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