Blog > OKU

Cafe run by special needs youths facing hard times during conditional MCO

Cafe run by special needs youths facing hard times during conditional MCO

It has not been easy for Sharon Lee, 60, single mother of a child with special needs, these last few years.

Lee set up the Tender Hearts Cafe in Subang Jaya, Selangor, in April 2018 to offer skills training and job opportunities for special needs youths aged 17 and above who have completed their special or secondary education.

The following month, at the end of May, Lee was diagnosed with breast cancer.

After completing her treatments in January last year and recuperating, she was back on her feet.

And then the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

“When the movement control order (MCO) was first imposed (in March), we suffered losses. Events and catering plans were cancelled and the cafe had to be closed immediately.

“In all, the cafe was closed for three-and-a-half months with no income but rental and recurring expenses had to be paid, ” said Lee.

The cafe reopened on July 1 but business did not pick up.

“In fact, business started deteriorating even before the conditional MCO was announced.

“We are worse hit this time as catering, events and bazaars remain nil and we are uncertain when it will be safe to return, ” shared Lee.

The cafe, located on Level 2 in Summit USJ, is manned by 11 special needs youths aged between 16 and 32 with different disabilities including Down syndrome, autism, ADHD, Turner syndrome and Asperger syndrome.

Their duties, carried out with some adult supervision, include the whole range like handling the cash register, taking orders, food and beverage preparation, serving, to washing dishes and cleaning.

“We also started making handicraft items like painting on canvas bags, stones as paper weights, glass jars and tea light holders for bazaars. We are planning to add more items in order to be self-sustainable as we do not depend on funding, ” added Lee.

During the current cafe closure, instead of doing nothing except having zoom sessions to touch base with the youths, Lee also conducts virtual training sessions.

“We started with social skills, which will be followed by safety on social media. For this, we are collaborating with a special needs centre.

“I am also working on new but simple recipes to increase our menu. Recipes have to be simple as our mission is to train our special needs youths to bake, cook and run the cafe eventually (on their own), ” said Lee.

Lee is also not letting the current situation dampen her spirits.

“As always, I have to remain positive and be on the lookout for any opportunities for our special needs youths.

“Hopefully things will pick up after it is safer, ” said Lee, adding that they welcome orders for their signature chocolate chip and walnut cookies.

For more info, visit their Facebook page or call Sharon Lee at tel: 016-216 2188.