Students from the Fifth Year Vocational Experience program in the Milford Public Schools will be getting a lot of skill-sharpening experience now that their latest business venture – “Parson’s Perks, A Community Café” – is up and running.

The coffee and snack unit is located in the Parsons building and offers city employees and visitors a variety of coffees, cold beverages, fruit, and pre-packaged snacks. The business opened last week and, so far, traffic has been steady with curious employees visiting and asking questions about the cart and its operation.

Joanne Barrett, a Milford Public Schools teacher and Transition Coordinator involved with the fifth year program, got the idea about a year ago to launch a business in which students with special needs could gain important vocational skills.

“My mission was to create a way for my students to learn valuable employability skills in a public environment,” Barrett said. “These students have huge potential and can easily become taxpaying, contributing citizens – but they needed a way to get some real experience before they transition from school to work. I think this is a wonderful way to do just that.”

The project could have been described as a ‘labor of love’ for the past year as Barrett and her colleagues, Caroline Ferri and Patty Doheny, attended to the many details involved in establishing a full-fledged business. City Sanitarian Laura Miller of the Milford Health Dept. and Milford Public Schools Director of Facilities Patrick Bradbury joined forces to assist with procuring the many licenses and meeting current food service requirements in the city.

Equipment for the new business venture was acquired through business donations and, in some cases, old-fashioned ingenuity. Westfield/Connecticut Post Mall donated an old service cart to the group, free of charge, which was then refurbished for its current purpose. Nantucket Embroidery came up with the signage and the maroon aprons worn by the students while they are working.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Elizabeth Feser said she was delighted with the new business and the work of all involved.

“Parson’s Perks is a wonderful addition on so many levels,” Feser said. “For our students in the [fifth year] program, they have the opportunity to learn and apply genuine workplace skills, communication, finance, customer relations, collaboration, and problem solving. And for those who work in or visit Parsons, what a bonus it is to be able to interact with and support our students while purchasing coffee, tea, fruit or another healthy snack. I commend all of the staff members who made this program possible, and I applaud the students for their eagerness and dedication.”

Emma Grace, a student member of the Parson’s Perks team, said she is happy to be involved and is learning many new things that will help her in the future. “I really like it,” she said. “The best part is I’m getting great experience working with people in the community and I’m learning a lot about budgeting and handling money. I love it.”

Emma plans to be involved in the business for a few more years and hopes to perhaps take some college courses in the future.

The cart is open Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. and on Fridays from 8:30 – 11:00 a.m., during the school year and for most of July.