Mondays and Wednesdays, two extra bodies help mix lattes and wash dishes, coached by the shop’s veteran coffee hounds.
Andrew Gomes beams as he hands off drinks and stocks sugar packets, and Jessica Rodrigues clears and cleans dishes like clockwork.
Because of autism, she doesn’t speak, and his cerebral palsy challenges him academically, but the two help Barista’s get through the busy morning rush, owner Hus Patel said.
Twice a week, Rodrigues and Gomes, along with district assistant Tanya Loayza, walk to Barista’s from Stein High School, where the pair attends the Tracy Young Adult Program for severely disabled people ages 18 through 22.
The two work three hours a week at Barista’s through the San Joaquin County special-education office.
Every year, about 800 special-education students between the ages of 12 and 22 get training at volunteer businesses to help them get hired at future jobs and learn independent living skills, said Margaret St. George of the county’s office of education.
The 14 students in Gina Berlin’s Tracy Young Adult Program this semester work at Best Buy, Party City, Hirsch Elementary School, Safeway and JCPenney. More than 30 Tracy businesses have hosted students in at least five years, Berlin said.
Patel said he was a bit skeptical when Loayza, a loyal customer, asked him to host the workers.
“It’s a really fast, morning-type job, and I wondered if they were capable,” he said.
But he was surprised how quickly the two picked up tasks and became part of the team.
“They’re very careful, and they listen,” he said. “And they’re actually excited to come to work. I’m happy for them.”
Gomes, a 2006 graduate of West High School, is in his last year of the class. Cecilia Trovao, his mother, said she hopes he can develop a career.
“He can do a lot of things, but he has to be prompted constantly,” she said.
Rodrigues’ mother, Laura Rodrigues, said her daughter will attend Stein three more years until she graduates and is left on her own.
“After that, how are we going to get her employed?” Rodrigues said. “(Autistic people) are at a disadvantage, especially if they’re as communicatively disabled as my daughter, who doesn’t really have a voice for herself.”
She said she hopes a business that works with the special-education office will eventually hire her daughter, because having a job gives the young woman a sense of pride and self-esteem.
“I can’t tell you how grateful we are as parents,” Rodrigues said.