MORRIS COUNTY — Chatham residents and Sorriso Kitchen owners Jimmy and Karen Bellas announce the launch of Reasons to Smile Foundation Inc., a public 501(c)3 charity to support, promote and expand employment opportunities for young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
About 19% of physically and developmentally disabled people are employed, compared with 64% of the non-disabled population, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. They want to help change that.
To help improve this number, Sorriso Kitchen has been offering real-life job training classes in service and hospitality for students of ECLC of Chatham and The Center School of Somerset. The eight-week session of the Monday Job Training Program (the day the restaurant is closed) was inspired by the Bellas’ son LJ, who has Down Syndrome.
Starting in 2019, the program has had multiple graduates and is expanding. For their ‘graduation exercise’, the students meet, greet, and serve family and friends lunch at the restaurant, followed by a graduation certificate presentation. “This is always our favorite part of the program”, says Jimmy Bellas. “Everyone is beaming with pride! Especially the kids”.
The foundation’s mission is to offer and support job training, education, and community programs that provide the skills, experience, and services to empower students and young adults to reach their potential in the workforce and community. This benefits not only individuals but businesses as well. “We want to help the businesses understand how little it takes to have a few young adults in for an hour or so a week to learn a new job skill. This can change their futures,” says Karen Bellas. ”And it is simpler than you think.”
“We’re grateful for the enthusiasm and support from this amazing community we’re in,” says Karen. “We quickly realized this program was bigger than our one-day-a-week training sessions at Sorriso Kitchen. The Reasons to Smile Foundation came out of that. Together we hope to make a difference.”
Last month we had our first “Breakfast for Dinner” event at Sorriso Kitchen, where graduates from our Monday Job Training Program served a full dining room of customers. The students did everything from greeting guests at the door, seating them, taking both drink and food orders, and serving and clearing. And “They did a fabulous job! We were so proud of them and their skills, but even more so, they were proud of themselves.” Watching that was everything, remarked Bellas. “And it was a great fundraiser for the foundation. We plan on scheduling these monthly, with the next one coming in May.”
The foundation is accepting donations and will host the first Annual Spring Gala fundraiser on Saturday, April 29, 2023, at The Frelinghuysen Arboretum’s Haggerty Center in Morristown, with Jazz pianist Jerry Vezza providing entertainment. Executive Chef Ryan Chatfield from Sorriso Kitchen has created a wonderful menu for the event. Several students who have graduated from the training program will also attend.
For more information, donate or purchase tickets to the Gala, click here and follow them on social media.