Working to overcome

Holly Richrath
Marcus Bowen buses a table during his first day of training at Morton Family Restaurant. Restaurant owners work in conjunction with Morton High School’s instructional program or students with special needs.

On his first day of training at Morton Family Restaurant, 17-year-old Marcus Bowen met a new group of people and learned the duties of his new job, just as any buser would.

But some would say Bowen, a student with developmental disabilities at Morton High School, had another obstacle to overcome on an already stressful first day of work.

He participates in an instructional work-study program at the high school, which places students with developmental disabilities in paid or volunteer positions in the community.

“The program builds self-esteem because they can learn to do a job and sometimes get a paycheck,” said Leslie Hopkins, job developer with the program.

When asked if he thought the job would be more difficult for him than anybody else, Marcus responded with a smile and a simple “no.”

Bowen joined two classmates, Tim Grawe, 20, and Katie Riddle, 19, at the restaurant. The two have been employed at the establishment for three and two years, respectively.

“Morton Family Restaurant has been fabulous about working with our kids,” said Hopkins. “We really appreciate them.”

Leslie Perez, owner of Morton Family Restaurant, said she is happy to have the extra help.

Perez said Morton High School approached her and asked if the restaurant had a work-study program that would accommodate some of the school’s special-needs students.

“We didn’t, so I made one up,” said Perez.

Grawe and Riddle work about 6 to 10 hours a week. They make minimum wage and get a tip out from the servers.

“They try harder, they work harder, they want to make people happy. And they do,” said Perez.

Employees and customers, alike, have grown to appreciate the work that Grawe and Riddle do at the restaurant. Perez said Grawe has an infectious laugh that will lift anybody’s spirits. She said that Riddle is very determined and never stops moving.

“Katie will put my weekend busers to shame,” she said. “And they’re my kids.”

“We think they’re awesome,” said Carol Hirstein, the restaurant’s assistant manager.

“They’re part of the family,” added Perez.