Pat Ciaccio & Nova Mahoney at the Apr. 18 Community Café news conference at the Hilton Garden Inn.  (Photos provided by Kat Mahoney)

At least 30 people — including adults with learning disabilites and their families — were on hand on April 18 when former Saddlebrook Resort general manager Pat Ciaccio and his team presented his 501(c)(3) nonprofit passion project — which he calls the Community Café. 

The Café, which is scheduled to open on June 15, is located in the 3,200-sq.-ft. former Keeps Carpet Store building on S.R. 54, less than a half-mile west of Morris Bridge Rd. The community/media preview was held at the Hilton Garden Inn Tampa-Wesley Chapel.

“The Community Café will create welcoming spaces and provide workforce training opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Ciaccio told those in attendance at the media preview. “I know there are other businesses that hire the developmentally disabled, including Publix, but we want to do even more to help them. We want to train them so they can not only have a job, but actually move up to management positions. Nearly our entire staff of 30-35 employees (when it opens) will be people with these special needs who normally find it difficult to find a job.”

The Community Café will be home to a gourmet coffee bar and also will sell ice cream and smoothies and also will feature a retail shop selling T-shirts, coffee mugs and other branded merchandise. The Café also will feature an 1,100-sq.-ft. private event space that will feature artwork (that will be for sale, with all sales proceeds going to the artists) rotating quarterly by physically, intellectually and developmentally disabled professional artists affiliated with Arts4All Florida. 

Sandra Sroka, of Arts4All Florida, which will provide disabled artists’ artwork at the Café.

Appearing at the news conference was Sandra Sroka, the adult program coordinator of Arts4All, who said that she believes the public will be impressed by the quality of the rotating artwork that will be on display at the Café.

Ciaccio said there also will be entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights featuring performers with special needs. He added that the event space will be available for use by community organizations.

Best of all, each area of the Community Café will have its own “team leader” among the “Shining Stars,” which is what all of the employees will be called. Only Ciaccio himself and the Café’s top management will not have special needs.  

One of those special needs folks — who you would never know was even on the autism spectrum and who joined Ciaccio at the news conference — was Nova Mahoney, who admitted that without the help she has received in her life, she’d “never be able to speak in front of a large group of people.” Nova also said that what Ciaccio and those who are helping him get the Community Café kicked off are doing, “Is just so important for people like me that I knew, from when I first met Pat, that I wanted to be part of it.”

Ciaccio also told those in attendance that the Shining Stars will deliver a high-quality food and beverage experience with exceptional guest service in a tranquil, family-oriented, “Team Greater Than Me” environment.

He also said that his goal is to provide cohesive and inclusive workforce training that will offer true advancement opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “We truly are looking to change the current narrative about special needs adults from awareness to education,” Pat said. “The narrative must be changed.” 

Ciaccio isn’t alone in his passion to help those with special needs. 

Community Café COO Kat Mahoney;

Among the others he introduced at the news conference were Nova’s mom Kat Mahoney of Katbrat Studios (which specializes in digital media and content creation), who has accepted the position of chief operating officer of the Community Café; John Lombardo of Lombardo Coaching & Consulting; and Darlene Hill of The Leyda Group (which specializes in leadership coaching and human resources consulting). In fact, Kat says, “I’m so dedicated to the Community Cafe because it’s everything that drives me forward in both my personal and professional life” said Mahoney. “Every business decision, every IEP school meeting, every educational and mental health speaking engagement I’ve done over 20 years, has led me to the Community Cafe.” 

As reported last issue, the Community Café also will be led and mentored by a five-person Board of Directors, including Dr. Alexis Dempsey-Doyle, Jodi Gordon, Wasim Kayal, Seth Ravenna and Dr. Mohamad Saleh.

Ciaccio and his leadership team thanked the Hilton Garden Inn and its GM Charlie Whiteacre for graciously agreeing to host the news conference.

“I also would like to thank all my partners and community members who already have reached out to lend support,” Ciaccio said. “It takes a village but together, I know that we can change the narrative!”

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