It’s not hard to spot Steven Patterson if you’re visiting Cafe Mezzanotte in Severna Park. The 35-year-old Arnold resident will likely be the one sporting a perpetual grin, dancing to music in the kitchen and fist-bumping his coworkers.
“I love to work here,” said Steven, whose day-to-day responsibilities at Cafe Mezzanotte include dishwashing, working in the kitchen, and cleaning the front area and bar. “I’m happy.”
Steven is a worker with Down syndrome, and thanks in part to support from the Millersville-based Providence Center, he’s able to thrive in the workforce. He’s one of 55 area adults — 25 in Millersville, 21 in Arnold and nine in Severna Park — with disabilities who are supported by Providence Center staff.
“Just because a person has a disability doesn’t mean they need special treatment; they just need to have the right support at the right time,” said Jessica Holman, director of Providence Career Services. “Despite the challenges or the severity of their disability, if they want to work, we’re going to make it happen.”
Matt Pharr has been with Cafe Mezzanotte for 35 years and he currently serves as a manager and bartender. He noted Steven’s attention to detail, sense of humor and unrivaled work ethic.
“It’s a big team back there,” said Pharr of the kitchen staff. “They love him, and he loves them.”
Steven’s mother, Angela Patterson, credited her son attending local public schools throughout his younger years as crucial to his development and confidence. At Broadneck High School, Steven even managed the wrestling team.
“It was his way to be a part of his community,” said Angela, noting that although Steven is a man of few words, she considers him a “quiet trailblazer.”
Steven’s positive energy goes beyond the walls of Cafe Mezzanotte. He is an avid sports fan, athlete, family guy and golfer. Steven has off on Wednesdays, when he enjoys going to lunch — preferably somewhere with a cheeseburger on the menu — and shopping.
Last year, Steven and his father won a gold medal for golf during the Special Olympics, and Steven has also competed in bowling, floor hockey, track and field, and dance. Years ago, he participated in horseback riding through a Special Olympics program.
When Steven was unable to continue working at his previous employer due to COVID-19, Cafe Mezzanotte came along at the right time.
After meeting with Cafe Mezzanotte owner Kosmas “Tommie” Koukoulis, Holman set up an internal paid internship for Steven through Providence Center. It’s designed where Providence Center pays initial wages and provides insurance to cover liabilities, and Steven’s position was slated to be a test run of a month at Cafe Mezzanotte. That test run didn’t last that long. Koukoulis knew after a week or two that Steven would be a perfect fit, and he became an employee.
“Tommie was phenomenal in his interacting with Steven,” Holman said of their initial meeting. “They just clicked.”
Steven’s mom said her son truly feels like he’s part of a team now.
“When he comes home, and I ask him ‘how was your day?’ there’s always a smile on his face,” Angela said. “People should look at this as an example of what is possible.”
It’s the team and family aspect that impresses both Angela and Providence Center associates. After receiving his first paycheck, “welcome to the team” was written at the bottom. Cafe Mezzanotte staff also helped Steven surprise his mom on Valentine’s Day, assisting him in getting tulips, a card and dessert.
The difference in Steven since becoming part of the Cafe Mezzanotte family has been noticeable, according to Angela. She’s not the only one that sees it. Holman, who has known Steven for nine years, describes him now as Steven 2.0.
“Seeing him reach this new level of happiness is indescribable,” Holman said.
Ashley Mundell has worked with Steven since 2019 as an employment consultant with the Providence Center. Mundell usually works with people to obtain employment in their preferred job fields with things such as creating a plan, building resumes and interview preparations. After obtaining employment, Mundell will assist them in getting acclimated to job duties until the worker and employer are both comfortable, at which point she transitions to weekly drop-ins or as needed.
“He had previous experience working in a restaurant and was able to jump right in,” Mundell said of Steven. “He's built many natural supports and exceeds employer expectations, so my weekly check-ins are fairly short and simple.”
Holman said if Providence Center had a hashtag, it would reference real jobs, real experiences and real pay.
“It’s rewarding knowing that you’re contributing to the way it should be,” Holman said. “People with disabilities should be in their communities. They should be working. They should be treated as real adults.”
Angela praised both Providence Center and Cafe Mezzanotte.
“We’re grateful Steven has the support of Providence Center, and they really look at him as a stakeholder and allow him to make the decisions about his activities and what he does with work,” Angela said. “Without Cafe Mezzanotte, Steven wouldn’t have this opportunity.”
It was hard for Steven to narrow down his favorite part of his workday when asked.
“Everything,” Steven said, adding that he hopes to keep working there as long as he can.
It seems likely he’ll be able to.
“As long as we’re here, he has a place,” Pharr said.
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