By Sarrah Peters
“I was at a restaurant one evening,” said Gadsden City Schools Superintendent Tony Reddick. “While there, someone approached me and said ‘Hey, you know we’ve got some of your Beautiful Rainbow students working here at the restaurant.’”
Reddick sat and spoke with the chef about the difference the students make on the staff and said that he was “moved to tears.” He was inspired to share the story of Beautiful Rainbow and commissioned two short documentaries. One is about five minutes in length and the other is just under a minute.
On Tuesday, February 19, the school officials invited community leaders and the public to view the documentaries. The documentaries highlight the Beautiful Rainbow program, a farm-to-table program that teaches students with Autism Spectrum Disorder or significant cognitive disabilities with hands-on learning. Students learn to grow food, prepare dishes and interact with customers. The program now runs its own café in the Gadsden Public Library, which is open for lunch on Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. and for pastries and tea on Tuesday through Thursday from 3 to 5:45 p.m.
“Our main mission is to help students get to the point where they’re contributing members of society,” said program coordinator and founder Chip Rowan.
Thirteen Beautiful Rainbow students have gone on to find outside employment at local restaurants and businesses, including Blackstone Pub and Eatery, Top O’ the River, Back Forty Beer Company, Holiday Inn Express and Blu Chophouse. Not only have the students found employment but have maintained employment. Rowan said that all 13 employees had been working for over six months. Some of these Beautiful Rainbow success stories are documented in the films, with interviews with the students, their managers and their co-workers.
After the viewing, Rowan introduced several Beautiful Rainbow students who talked about their experiences in the program.
“I do the quesadillas,” said student Brandon Latham. “I make pimento cheese. I do the grilled cheeses. I do all of them. You tell me to do it, I can do anything!”
Latham works at Back Forty and said that he loves it there, and that they love him at work.
David Hodges, a student that has been with Beautiful Rainbow “from day one,” works at Top O’ the River and reported that he recently got a raise.
“Without Mr. Rowan, I would not even be here at all,” said Tay Jones, who was featured in the documentary. “I would probably be in more trouble than usual.”
Jones said that Rowan teaching him to cook led him to not only a job at one of his favorite places, Blackstone Pub and Eatery, but also to study more difficult recipes at home. He now dreams of becoming a culinary chef.
During the viewing celebration, Beautiful Rainbow received an Award of Excellence in Special Education from the Alabama State Department of Education.
Links to the documentaries are now available at www.gcs.k12.al.us/beautiful-rainbow-video. For more information, visit the Beautiful Rainbow Catering Co. and Garden Facebook page.