It would appear to be just another day at 2nd Street Lunch.
It was, however, a trial run for a new endeavor between the iconic Roanoke Rapids restaurant and the Life Skills Class of the city’s high school.
On Sunday, owner Greg Haislip and his wife, Victoria, were gearing up for this coming Sunday’s debut, where exceptional students help prepare the meals, take orders, man the register or keep the restaurant spotless.
The program was forged months ago, Victoria said. “We ended up with a partnership with the Life Skills Class. We like to help the community.”
Victoria knows the value of the class as her 20-year-old son, Owen Hicks, has Down Syndrome and is ending his freshman year in George Mason University’s Mason Life program. “I’ve learned a lot over the years,” she said before the bulk of the RRHS students came in for the final training. “Seeing him transition hit home for us. It touched our heart. We wanted to find ways to educate and inform others.”
Greg is the third generation owner of the restaurant. Owen is his stepson. While he and Victoria currently reside in Richmond, after his stepson graduates from high school, they will be moving to Roanoke Rapids.
What Greg has seen through his involvement with Owen and the three weeks of training at 2nd Street is the work ethic special needs children have. “With Owen and everything we’ve been through, we don’t see limitations here. There are no limitations. Most teachers feel the same way.”
The go-getter of the program
April Whitehead, a Life Skills instructor at RRHS, began talking with the Haislips as a customer at the restaurant, seeking donations specific to the Halifax County Special Olympics.
“When we sat down to talk, by the time we finished, she had designed a logo within a few hours, talked to someone about T-shirts and aprons and designed permission slips for the students,” Victoria said.
Victoria calls Whitehead “a true advocate for her students. In her heart and soul, she’s definitely the passion, she’s the go-getter.”
The program, Victoria said, “It’s just this cool partnership. We have found ways to tap into the background we need to bring it to the table. Not only does it help the kids have skills to take in the work environment, it’s a way to share that opportunity.”
Whitehead, an instructor of the Life Skills program for the past three years, sees the capabilities of the students. “They’re happy all the time. They don’t take anything for granted.”
Whitehead hopes the success of the 2nd Street project will carry over to other businesses in the Roanoke Valley. “I would like to see them work at offices, anywhere throughout the county. The kids are capable. They want to learn, they want to be successful.”
Life with Owen
Throughout her pregnancy, Victoria didn’t know Owen had Down Syndrome. “Within 30 minutes of him being born, the doctors and nurses said this was the case.”
When it was discovered, she said, “As a new mom it was crushing. I thought about all the doors closing and how hard it was going to be.”
As a former teacher, however, her instructional instincts took over. “He was in therapy by 2 weeks. He received occupational, physical and speech therapy later. I wanted to help provide him every opportunity. We knew he needed help learning.”
By age 2 he was in preschool. At age 5 he was placed in regular kindergarten. He went to school with his siblings. “We tried to find as many classes as he could attend. He loves to sing. He was a member of the chorus.”
Greg says he sees the venture as the restaurant’s way of giving back to the community.
What he sees in curriculum is a focus on disability and not ability. “Everything is predicated on disability.”
As a baseball instructional coach, Greg said, “My attitude is don’t quit. You can do it. You can find a way to succeed.”
Greg said it is hard to put into words his feelings about the endeavor with the high school. “Next Sunday we open up to the public. That will be the defining moment.”
Victoria says the mission is to serve with passion.
Observations from the counter
Owen stands at the register watching the activity as the smell of hotdogs, burgers and fries waft throughout the small restaurant.
He participated in a similar endeavor at Max’s Positive Vibe Cafe in Richmond. “I think they’ll have a good experience,” he said of the students as parents began trickling in to be waited upon and served by their children. “They’ll be taken care of. I think the kids will do well.”
Tammy Williams, principal of RRHS, came in the restaurant with her family to be served and to observe the trial run. “I’m so excited for the Life Skills students. Second Street has been absolutely wonderful.”
Allie Evans, the exceptional children director of the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District, came to observe. “Right now we’re seeing great strides being made. To do something like this is amazing. Right now the wheels are spinning for further great opportunities. This is building community partnerships. I want to see it continue getting bigger and bigger. Second Street has opened the door.”
Throughout the trial run, Renee Smith, one of the students, could be seen going from table to table, taking orders, hustling from table to kitchen and back again. “I’m hurting now,” she laughed.
She says when she completes school, she may want to work in food service. “I might want to work here. I’m happy to help serve people their food.”
School spokesman Les Atkins said, “This is what having a community school district is all about. We’re in this community supporting businesses and the businesses support the schools. It’s a win-win.”