A New Center Line Coffee Shop Offers Opportunities for Students with Disabilities

Gather + Grounds is a new community space that offers learning opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Gather + Grounds, a new coffee spot in Center Line that opened last month at 25709 Van Dyke Ave., looks like any other hip coffee shop but its mission is different from a typical cafe. 

The space doubles as a learning tool for Rising Stars Academy, a charter school devoted to educating adult learners ages 18-26 with intellectual and developmental disability. Students receive on-the-ground training in manufacturing, medical sciences, restaurant work and more alongside traditional education in subjects like art and robotics.

“One of the things our students need the most help with is social and emotional skills,” says Deb Prentiss, co-founder and executive director of the Rising Stars Academy Foundation. 

Deb, along with her husband Mark, opened Rising Stars Academy in 2012. The 4,000 square foot coffee shop is their newest addition to the school which already boasts a commercial food making facility.

“Everyone is given an opportunity to train at Gather + Grounds – we base things on abilities, not disabilities,” Deb says. 

Photo credit: Gather + Grounds

Launching a restaurant to be run by adults with intellectual disabilities was always a dream for Mark, a program manager and culinary educator at the school. Watching the cafe operate so successfully for its first few weeks has made the educators and staff proud, he says. 

“I would put my kids up against anyone in the restaurant business,” he says. “Our students really meshed together from day one.”

Students gain real world skills both behind the counter and as a patron at Gather + Grounds. They make coffee drinks, assemble sandwiches and perform all other standard tasks a barista might. 

“The purpose of putting that building up is to provide space in the evenings for programs so that they can come to and hang out in society, without getting in trouble,” Deb Prentiss says. “There’s plans for game nights, karaoke, nutrition programs and exercise programs.” 

“They can come in and spend time with other adults and model social behaviors,” she adds. 

The response has been overwhelmingly positive from the students, parents and community as a whole.

Photo credit: Gather + Grounds

“The public, the city of Center Line, love having the coffee shop in their city and they’ve been very, very supportive of our students,” she says.

The first community event, a Mother’s Day brunch, was a huge success. Families were able to form new connections in the space. 

“The clients really enjoy being there – it’s someplace new,” says Deb. “They’re adults, so they like to do the same things that other adults like to do.” 

While the school itself would not be able to have new locations, the coffee shop could serve as a replicable model in other parts of metro Detroit. The couple is already eyeing spaces in northern Macomb after the way the community responded to Gather + Grounds. 

“Nobody around us has something like this built into a specific program,” says Mark. “One thing we always go back to is, we have the ability to adapt to our clients, our students, because we know it and we live it.”

The academy also offers adult learners the chance to participate in the upkeep of a three-acre garden, orchard, greenhouses and livestock. Plus, there’s a commercial food production space that services goods for around 75 restaurants in metro Detroit and a retail space selling student-made ceramics.

Gather + Grounds is located at 25709 Van Dyke Ave., Center Line and is open to the public 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-noon on Saturday. 

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