More from Northern Virginia

In American society, a job is more than just a source of income.

It’s an identity, says NW Works’ director of business services Charles Harbaugh IV. “If you have a disability, it can be demeaning to be asked what you do if you don’t have a job.”

But through NW Works and its partnerships, many people in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and beyond who have disabilities can build career-oriented skills and find jobs fulfilling jobs.

“[NW Works fills] that employment piece for anybody with disabilities,” said Harbaugh. “Once they leave the school system, they come to us and we say, ‘hey, what does so-and-so, who do they want to be, who do they want to be when they grow up? Where do they want to work at? And we help them fulfill that mission.”

One of NW Works’ social enterprises is the Firefly Cafe and Bakery in Winchester. The bakery helps people to build the skills to work in the restaurant industry, rather than manufacturing, janitorial, or landscaping companies that NW Works commonly partners with. 

Employees can build cooking and baking skills, as well as the more intangible “soft” skills like customer service.

Dianne Arbogast and Annie Gregory have both worked at Firefly since it opened in March of 2015. Arbogast, the lead deli attendant, says when she first started working at the cafe, she thought it was like any other restaurant. 

She quickly came to realize that working with a different population could open her eyes to different walks of life, and she sees how much the job means to her co-workers. 

“We’re encouraging people with any type of disabilities that wants to do a restaurant environment that we can train them and give them the knowledge and the skills,” said Arbogast.

For Annie Gregory, the Firefly Cafe and Bakery is her first job within the restaurant industry and she says she enjoys being a baker.

“I make anything, like cookie dough, brownies, lemon bars,” she said. Gregory even says she doesn’t mind filling in as a dishwasher. 

“This is the first and only place I’ve ever worked where, clients especially, never complain about anything. It’s always a positive attitude.” said Arbogast. “Working in a restaurant environment, that’s a rare thing.”

Staff at NW Works see Firefly Cafe and Bakery as an opportunity for the general public to see what their organization does every day. 

“You can come here, you can eat lunch, you can eat dinner, you can allow us to cater your parties, so it’s a great avenue to support a non-profit,” said Harbaugh.

He’s hoping people will come out to support the cafe and NW Works especially with Giving Tuesday. 

“Not only do you get the ability to help adults with disabilities, but you give them the opportunity and hope to have a job in the community,” he said.

But the impact doesn’t just stop with employment. “You get people who were on the other end of the tax brackets, taking taxes. Now, they are paying taxes on those wages that they’re earning. So they become really great, fulfilling members of society,” Harbough said. 

Whether it’s making a donation through the Giving Tuesday campaign or simply buying a cup of coffee at the cafe, Harbaugh says no investment is too small. To make a donation, click here to get involved with NW Works.