Tricklebee Café offers volunteer opportunity for woman with Down syndrome

December 20, 2018

Volunteer Nealy Rothe proudly wears her orange Tricklebee Café T-shirt as she serves meals, folds napkins and takes orders from customers.

Rothe, a young woman with Down syndrome, began volunteering in the café at 4424 W. North Ave., after finding the opportunity on her church’s website.

“I like learning how to do things in the kitchen like cooking and dishes and waitressing, and I just do a variety of things,” Rothe explained.

She sees her volunteer work as “an introduction to give me some experience in the kitchen area. It’s like job training. They teach you how to set a table, serve food and drinks, and wait on people. My favorite thing is taking orders because I get to write it down.”

Rothe is a member of My Choice Family Care, an organization that works with adults with disabilities and with seniors to help them become independent in their communities. To help members achieve independence, My Choice may work with them to find a volunteer role or a job, assist with job training and help coordinate transportation. Rothe, who enjoys volunteering, says she definitely would recommend it to other My Choice members, and suggests they go online to find opportunities.

Rothe’s mother, Jeanne Fehr, says her daughter is very enthusiastic about working at Tricklebee Café. “Nealy loves to volunteer,” she said. “It’s really been good for her, exposing her to healthy food. She’s learning about all kinds of vegetables she never knew about, and volunteering provides her with the opportunity to do different tasks.”

Fehr added: “She’s in her own independent supportive living apartment, so food prep is one of the goals for her to learn, and she sometimes gets the opportunity to do that. It’s also good because she’s interacting with various people and it’s a worthy cause. She seems to enjoy it a lot.”

A dedicated volunteer

The Rev. Christie Melby-Gibbons, an ordained pastor of the Moravian Church and the executive director of Tricklebee, has been impressed by Rothe’s dedication and work ethic. She and her husband, David, founded the café in 2016. The goal of the nonprofit restaurant is to bring healthful food to the neighborhood at a reasonable cost.

Melby-Gibbons described Rothe as “a very sweet person and very competent. Whatever you ask of her, she does it, and she does it well. She comes in every other week for long stretches of time from 9 to 1 p.m., which is great.

“She’s just really happy to see people, especially when it’s a lot of folks she knows from church or the neighborhood. She’s all for giving people hugs,” the pastor said. “She’s always kind of at the ready. Each volunteer gets a meal, and when she’s done, she cleans up her food and just gets right back to it.”

The café has a unique way of doing business. A person contributes what they can afford for their meal. Some may pay nothing at all and volunteer as their payment; some may pay the suggested price of $5.69 to $6.46, and others may pay far more to cover the cost of someone else’s meal, a way of “paying it forward.”

The restaurant is a pleasant, sunny place that attracts customers and volunteers as soon as the door is unlocked for the day. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and the offerings are different every day. There’s also a Thursday night meal at 6 p.m. that consists of soup and bread.

Among Rothe’s customers recently were Lindsay Galan-Skinner and her mother, Cheryl Galan, who live in the neighborhood. “I love supporting the community,” Cheryl Galan said. “We come here about once a month.”

Her daughter said: “It’s good food, has a good vibe and it’s a good mission.”