Downtown Cafe Helping Out The Blind

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The restaurant in a government office building downtown is open again after being closed for more than a year.

Legally blind since childhood, Rob Essenberg says he's all too familiar with some the hurdles blind people face, especially when it comes to the job market.

"'You can't drive so we can't hire you' so that discouraged me but that led me towards the Business Enterprise Program," Essenberg shared.

Twenty-nine years later Essenberg is helping run the program's new training center for blind and visually impaired individuals. The program is housed in Cora's Cafe, the restaurant that reopened in the Anderson House Office Building.

"We can give them boatloads of training, show them everything they need to know in business and things like that to help them start their own business," Essenberg said.

Run through the Michigan Bureau of Services for Blind Persons, the program is trying to increase economic opportunities for the 220,000 blind people in the state.

"Our goal is to help people in Michigan live independent lives and to become fully employable if possible," said Bureau Director Ed Rodgers.

According to the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons, the unemployment rate for the blind community is between 30 to 40 percent nationwide. Cafe organizers hope this training program will be one step towards lowering that number.

"Once the cafe is up and going and we've got all the bugs worked out, it will be put on the bid line," said Michael Zimmer, Chief Deputy Director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Zimmer is referring to the plan of having a graduate of the business enterprise program take up the reins at the restaurant.

Even if graduates don't end up starting their own businesses, Essenberg says there is a lot they can learn. "We're giving them a lot of skills that they can use to help them in the job market," he noted.

All opportunities organizers hope will help a group that is vastly underemployed.

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