Hoehmtown Happenings: Congers Lake Independence Cafe Serving up Treats and Opportunity

Last month, Clarkstown opened the first Pickleball complex in the Lower Hudson Valley at Congers Lake Memorial Park. In addition to the nine court complex, we constructed a new building that includes new restrooms and a concession area suitable to serve up treats for pickleballers and all park goers alike. A few weeks later, we cut the ribbon on the Independence Cafe, a partnership between the Town and Bridges, Rockland’s preeminent not-for-profit organization dedicated to advocacy and leadership on behalf of people with disabilities.  Having worked for twenty-one years with people with disabilities, I thought the cafe was the perfect opportunity to partner with Bridges and provide the differently abled the opportunity to gain experience and, as the name of the cafe implies, independence. Namely, to set them on a path toward building the skills needed to reach various levels of independence in their own lives by finding gainful employment opportunities.
Prior to becoming Supervisor, I served as the CEO/Executive Director of Rockland Independent Living Center (now Bridges) and was proud of the first Independence Cafe that we proposed and opened on the second floor of the Rockland County Courthouse. The cafe is staffed by people with disabilities and veterans looking for an employment opportunity. Many of these folks are new to the workforce and it becomes a training opportunity. It is a sad reality for many people with a disability that the opportunity to work is often denied or not readily available leading to a life of dependence upon government funding.  Many people with a disability are looking for a path forward not a handout. The opportunity to work at the cafe has led to more permanent job
opportunities–literally people are getting a start at the cafe at the courthouse, which leads to more permanent employment at the mall and other retail stores.   It was a great partnership which continues today and has been extended to Congers Lake Park.
Opening the new cafe at the Town’s pickleball complex was another great opportunity to work with Carlos Martinez and Bridges to give people with disabilities jobs.  Independence Cafe is open seven days a week from 9am to 5pm.  Clarkstown residents visiting the park can purchase water, coffee, ice cream, and light snacks.  Bridges hopes to expand their menu to include more cafe lunch items soon. Several benches are located nearby so you can take a moment to relax and recharge. According to the people counter we have on the adjacent boardwalk, well over 500,000 people walk the trail annually. I expect that many reading this are regular walkers and joggers on that path. So the next time you walk by that old now refurbished building, stop for a moment and say hello to the workers at the new Independence Cafe. If you do stop for a coffee or a soda and a snack realize that you are doing far more than refreshing yourself. In patronizing the Independence Cafe you are doing more than getting a simple refreshment, you are helping folks with disabilities pursue their dream of a more independent life.

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