A cup of kindness
Virtual art auction to help build cafe employing those with disabilities
Gerry’s Cafe co-founders Amy Philpott and Natalie Griffin are joined by a group of future potential employees at a benefit concert at Peggy Kinanne’s March 8, 2020. Front row, from left: Nate Hollenbeck, Valerie Pajerski, Jamie Brooks; back row, from left, Stephen McVoy, Philpott, Marilyn McCabe, Griffin and Erik Aldag. (Courtesy of Natalie Griffin)
By Kim Becker (kbecker@dailyherald.com)

Amy Philpott and Natalie Griffin are on a mission to open a new cafe.

However, the goal is not to brew the perfect cup of joe, but to build a future for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Brewing Opportunities- Gerry’s Cafe is the new nonprofit organization formed by Philpott and Griffin to raise the funds to afford a lease and build out construction of a cafe in Arlington Heights where they will hire and train adults to work.

“My co-founder, Amy Philpott, and I formed the nonprofit organization to fund the initial cafe and future cafes,” said Griffin in an email.

“We wanted to raise the funds first, which we have accomplished! We met our initial fundraising goal of $500,000, which is why we now have secured a commercial broker to locate our space for the cafe to open.”

Griffin said the cafe is named Gerry’s Cafe in memory of Philpott’s aunt, Geralyn Wehmer, who was born with Down syndrome in 1958. She was the youngest of six children.

The doctors recommended institutionalization for Gerry, but her parents disagreed and brought her home. According to Griffin, Gerry was a ray of sunshine, a constant energy in the house.

“Gerry brought unconditional love, laughter and joy to her family, neighbors and friends, and truly changed the way people perceived a child with Down syndrome,” Griffin said. “It is that love, laughter and joy that we will bring into Gerry’s Cafe in her memory.”

The two women have relied on the kindness of the community to help raise funds for the cafe.

Griffin said they have received “tremendous” support from Northwest Suburban High School District 214.

“We partnered with the school district in 2019 and they have hosted many fundraising events and awareness events to benefit Gerry’s Cafe,” Griffin said.

She said ABC 7 News featured the most recent event at John Hersey High School, “The Big Game,” Oct. 15, which was a basketball game featuring students with special needs at an all-school assembly.

The week prior to the assembly, the student body raised money for Gerry’s Cafe and presented a donation check of $4,100.

“This was the second time that Hersey students supported and raised funds as a whole school for Gerry’s Cafe,” Griffin said. “Additionally, school clubs have hosted fundraisers throughout the year. Prospect High School and the LIFE Program at Forest View have also raised awareness and funds on our behalf,” Griffin said.

Gerry’s Cafe will be hosting another fundraiser the community can get behind, an art auction taking place Nov. 1-14. This virtual event features both professionals and hobbyists, but also has works by students and people with special needs.

To view items up for auction

— and to make a bid, visitgerryscafe.rallyup.com/gerrysartauction.

Natalie Griffin shares more about Gerry’s Cafe and the virtual art auction.

Q: What is Gerry’s Cafe? Give a brief overview of what the organization does and who you serve.

A: Gerry’s Cafe will be the place that hires, includes and celebrates all people with all different abilities. We will create new job opportunities and provide exceptional food, drink, joy and community through the extraordinary acceptance of everyone.

Our cafe will be a place of joy for all employees and patrons. Our vision, along with the support of our community, is becoming a reality!

Our mission is to open a cafe in Arlington Heights that will employ adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We will hire, train and supervise approximately 40 adults (ages 22 and older) to work in our cafe.

We will serve amazing coffee offerings, fresh baked pastries, cafe-style breakfast and lunch and add catering with delivery service.

We want to support the many capable adults living in our community by offering job opportunities and competitive wages.

The Brewing Opportunities Foundation-Gerry’s Cafe started as a new nonprofit organization in November, 2018. It is a registered 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization.

Q: Where do the majority of your donations come from?

A: The majority of our donations have come from local residents who want to see Gerry’s Cafe open up in our community.

We have felt tremendous support from individuals living in the Northwest suburbs. Additional major donors supporting our mission include Wintrust Bank, Lavelle Law, Berkshire Hathaway Starck, Amina Grace Memorial Fund, The Aigner Family Foundation and Thumbuddy Special.

We have also received in-kind service donations from Lavelle Law, DGAA Law, Soprano Accounting & Tax Services, GFX International, Tuscan Market & Wine Shop, Integress Marketing and The Fuze Group.

Q: How many people per year do you serve?

A: When we open, we plan to hire, train and pay competitive wages to at least 40 exceptional employees.

Additionally, we plan to offer a Training Grounds to provide job training to individuals needing post-high school vocational training to prepare them for jobs in the workforce outside of Gerry’s Cafe.

We hope to instill the idea of hiring people with exceptionalities in all places of business. Our long-term goal is to replicate our cafe and open more Gerry’s Cafes in other communities in the Chicagoland area.

Q: Tell us about the upcoming art auction. How does it work?

A: The second annual Gerry’s Cafe Art Auction will begin Monday, Nov. 1, and run through Sunday, Nov. 14. The event is virtual. The link to the auction is gerryscafe.rallyup.com/gerrysartauction.

Your bid will support the mission of Gerry’s Cafe, as well as creative and talented local artists. So bid high!

Gerry’s Cafe is proud to support artists of all ages and abilities. Some of our artists are professionals and some are hobbyists. Many of our most talented artists are students and people with special needs.

The artist is receiving 50% of the final sale price and Gerry’s Cafe is receiving 50% as a donation. Some of the artists are donating 100%.

We will offer a “Meet the Artist” Reception from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, at the Chamber of Commerce Office Center, 3400 W. Stonegate Blvd., Arlington Heights.

Everyone is invited to this reception, which will include wine and cheese.

Guests who wish to attend this open house should RSVP at www.gerryscafe.org/events.

The Virtual Art Auction will close promptly at 4 p.m. Nov. 14. Winning bidders can pick up their artwork from 4-6 p.m. at the Chamber of Commerce Office Center.

Q: What else would you like readers to know?

A: We are very excited to announce that we have a signed agreement with a commercial broker from @ Properties. George Frigelis is actively searching for the perfect location to open Gerry’s Cafe.

He is supported by a site search team of professionals donating their time to our cause. Our location needs to be accessible, visible and viable. We are confident that George will find our space and negotiate a lease on our behalf to be a successful nonprofit business and a frequently visited local cafe.