A pizzeria in Reno called Smiling With Hope is offering more than just classic New York style pizza. It’s giving people with special needs hands-on work experience and independence. Our contributor Luiza Vieira went to check it out.
“Hi, hello, Luiza.”
As Walter Gloshinski, the owner, greets me, I see him grimace with each step he takes.
“I’m going now from eight in the morning until ten at night. Non-stop.”
Walter is a retired special education teacher and his wife Judy is a school counselor. Two decades ago he realized that his students with disabilities needed more than what a classroom setting could offer.
“We started making brownies and bowls by hand and selling them. And we made money. And they were happy,” he says. “They had to count money, they had to do measurement, they had to read recipes.”
This pizzeria and baking program was inserted in several schools and universities where Walter worked in California, Texas and Ohio. But he often disagreed with school officials. So when they moved to Reno last year, they wanted to try this idea in the private sector.
“They keep me wanting me to do academics with these kids and I keep saying – Show me where that works. They are almost cognitively delayed, intellectually challenged population at almost a 100 percent unemployment rate,” he says. “I put them to work in a real life setting and I got them jobs. But schools aren’t set up for that.”
In Reno, the couple has partnered with the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. The pizzeria is one of the many certified sites in town that offers training experience in a real business for people with disabilities. After 80 hours, if all goes well, Judy says they can offer them a job.
“For most workers here, it’s their first time working. They are in their late thirties and they never had a job.”
That includes Melyssa Erins, who was born with down syndrome and didn’t work until the age of 37. Now, she greets customers and helps to serve the tables.
Melyssa moves among the tables that are covered with green, white and red plaid tablecloths, colors that represent a background that Walter talks about with pride. The big old silver oven, is from 1968 and as Walter says, is one of many secrets to making the perfect pizza. The ingredients are all fresh, and imported from different parts of the country.
“Here is our cheese, that comes from Wisconsin. My cannoli shells, I have them handmade in Long Island. ”
The pizzeria has been open for only four months but Walter says they hit the jackpot when it comes to community support.
“Hi can I have a pizza for Karen? Oh my god, smells so good in here.”
This is Karen Harrenty. She says Smiling With Hope is her new place to go to.
“Any company that work with help developmentally disabled people I think is great. Giving them a chance, letting them put their skills to practice. It’s great pizza, it’s a great cause.”
Between the craziness of customers coming in and out, and pizzas to serve, the back of the kitchen is also quite busy.
“Back here, this is Emma’s world.”
Emma is their first employee through the state program. She dips a yellow thermometer inside three different sinks that are filled with water.
“See this you push this button, and you take the temperature. It has to be over a 100. That’s good, 116.9”
She says clean dishes requires a perfect temperature.
Like Melyssa, this is also Emma’s first job. And she’s thankful.
“They are very understanding and they know how to talk to me. Other people are not so sure how to approach me,” she says. “They are non-judgemental and they don’t just assume; they actually ask.”
Walter and Judy hope they can turn Smiling With Hope into a non-profit one day. Their goal is to reach to more people with special needs in different ways. Eventually, they want to expand to the building next door by opening a bakery, and maybe even an art studio.
Observation: This story was actually published on Reno Public Radio (KUNR) in June of 2016. This is just an update of my professional portfolio. The pizzeria still exists and it’s going better than ever.