Local Businesses Serving the Special Needs Community are Local Services Serving Us All.

When I applied for an internship with Magical Bridge Foundation, I had no idea how impactful the experience would be. Visiting various organizations who serve those with special needs and working on marketing materials for the foundation taught me a lot about my community. Of course, I already knew how innovative and inclusive Magical Bridge Playground was, but learning about other local resources for the special needs community was extremely eye-opening. Two local services in the Bay Area stood out, Via Services and Ada’s Cafe.

zaFwBCfti3A7xwIL0Z-LwPlZ3PqLaPA_vtKx5qTw7SgHZkhL0Pg1Qn1CU91VdNr6oh14=s170A private independent non-profit, Via Services has been providing services for children and adults with disabilities since 1945. One of their programs is the Via West camp, providing daytime and overnight respite care. Situated on thirteen acres of land in the Cupertino hills, the campus feels like a peaceful nature retreat. It is a phenomenal place for people of all abilities to spend time in nature, which is a proven way to relax and unwind.

IMG_3877When the other interns and I showed up, I was instantly drawn in by the fun atmosphere!  Kids were playing with a giant rainbow parachute on the grass, and all seemed to be enjoying themselves. Later, we got to sit side by side with all of the special needs campers and help them plant beans. While planting beans, a camper made me a beautiful pink sign with my name on it. It was such a sweet gesture, and all of the campers there were extremely hospitable to us,  a group of teenagers barging into their camp and joining them for the afternoon.

I went into Via West expecting to help and teach the campers. What I didn’t realize, however, was how much they would teach me. This visit was truly a two-way street: we all have so much to learn from this population. The campers were full of personality and genuinely excited to meet us. Visiting Via West was a unique experience where we bonded with special needs kids and participated in fun activities together.

While Via West is a great place for kids with special needs to have fun while away from home, it is undeniably important to be fully integrated into their broader communities.

3409c6f66e78c826b44086c3de3bb32f_400x400Ada’s Cafe, just around the corner from Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground, is where “good food and community meet!” Founded by Palo Alto community leader and parent of four children, Kathleen Hughes yearned for a way to engage people with disabilities in the food industry as a way to bridge the gap between typical and special needs adults. Along with other individuals, the cafe employs special needs adults and teaches them how to cook, interact with customers, serve food, and general life skills to support themselves financially.

Above and beyond those useful skills, Ada’s Cafe is one of the only local business which offers adults with special needs a real sense of purpose and belonging. It has been great to have this as the local cafe to go to when studying at the library or to play at Magical Bridge. Studying always seem more manageable after I grab a snack and get the friendliest service around from Ada’s!  I’m so glad to support their business and have been a customer since they opened. Throughout the Magical Bridge internship, we enjoyed Ada’s Cafe many times and could always count on real “magical” service and great food. It’s a shame more dining establishments and businesses don’t hire such a diverse set of employees. In the way that all playgrounds should adopt accessible structures, our communities must offer equal employment opportunities to people with special needs.

Overall, the experiences and insights gained during my summer internship with Magical Bridge will last a lifetime and help shape my career decision. While I’ve written about Via West and Ada’s Cafe making a positive impact on my community, I am leaving this internship with a renewed enthusiasm about the many ways those with special needs can enrich all of our lives. My hope is that with the renewed community Magical Bridge playgrounds create, everyone will join my appreciation for the many ways those with special needs enrich our lives.


Ember_MBAEmber Lin-Sperry is a rising Junior at Gunn High School.  She enjoys many activities in her free time including cross country, soccer, track, and volunteering.  She also loves to trael and spend time with her family and friends.



About Magical Bridge Foundation


Magical Bridge Foundation furthers the promise of Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground by advocating for and creating inclusive and innovative playgrounds in other communities. Led by Magical Bridge Playground founder and visionary, Olenka Villarreal, and co-founders Jill Asher and Kris Loew, the formation of Magical Bridge Foundation is responding to the global need for innovative and inclusive parks. We are pouring our seven years of research, fundraising, development, design, and construction strategies into building Magical Bridge Playgrounds across the nation.

If you are interested in bringing a Magical Bridge Playground to your community, kindly contact Olenka Villarreal at olenka@magicalbridge.org or Jill Asher at jill@magicalbridge.org.