At Nook, volunteer staff are happy, respected, and serving up a great cup of coffee

Kiri Cooper is ecstatic ten weeks into her Nook school. The bubbly 23-year-old knows how to make coffee, manage orders, and clean tables. She is well-versed in health and safety regulations and has mastered the art of small talk with her clients.

Above all, she is “energised and satisfied.” Cooper said, “Being here is my dream for my work experience.” “I enjoy working with [manager] Greg because he makes me feel at ease. It’s wonderful to meet new people… I’m satisfied and respected.” Nook is a training ground for young people with a wide range of learning disabilities, tucked away in the back of the new Habitat Hub on Thunanui Drive.

Cooper comes in twice a week and does something different each time, learning new skills and consolidating previous knowledge. Greg Dyer, a Nook employee, is assisting Kiri Cooper in gaining useful job skills and freedom. Boss Greg Dyer said, “It’s the highlight of her week.” The former hospitality teacher at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology looks forwards to going to work every day.

He said, “I get out of bed and I’m so excited.” According to Dyer, young people with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Down syndrome face major obstacles to jobs. “After the age of eighteen, there is little left for them. People look at them and go, you can’t do a job, you can’t do set hours. But they can. It’s just getting them prepared.”

At the cafe, his students gain skills they can’t get anywhere else, Dyer said. “We give them a skill set to set them up: to find their own jobs, give them self-confidence, an understanding and belonging. “Not everyone wants to work in hospitality, but the skills transfer to other jobs too.”

The cafe’s profits go back into Habitat, which helps individuals and families get into decent homes. “It’s pushing towards the goal for better communities. Yes, we’re building homes, but we also build communities.” Nook has plans to grow over time: adding a kitchen, teaming up with other organisations and launching various schemes.

There’s also another knock-on effect: the independence gained from work experience. “One mother said, ‘What did you say to my son? This morning he showered, shaved, got ready and jumped on his bike ready to go’.” “That makes a huge impact; it’s preparing them for the future.

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