EDINBURG — Students clad in yellow shirts greeted visitors here at the IDEA Toros College Prep cafeteria ahead of a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the campus’ new cafe Friday morning.

Soon the master of ceremonies, 21-year-old Jonathan Aceves, welcomed the small crowd. He introduced students who recited the pledge of allegiance and sang the national anthem before introducing 19-year-old Oscar Lopez, who performed a rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect.”

“That was perfect,” Aceves quipped. “Get it? It’s the name of the song.”

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held shortly after to celebrate the opening of the new student-run and operated cafe, called Rise and THRIVE Cafe.

“We are excited to start and begin our revenue-based business, if you will, for our scholars who have started this thing from the ground up,” Christine Clifford, site director for the THRIVE program, said. “They’ve really taken on and orchestrated the entire process from the business plan all the way up to the execution of the items that we’re going to be selling.”

THRIVE, which stands for teaching and harnessing real world independence and vocational experience, is a transition program for special needs students between the ages of 18 and 22. The program offers students an opportunity to learn vocational skills they can use to acquire jobs in the workforce as well as independent living skills.

“By the time they graduate, they are equipped with the skills they need for employment,” Clifford said. “Right now we’re working on campus-based instruction here around the campus and kind of contriving different opportunities as much as we can due to COVID, so they can really practice those vocational skills.”

Baristas stand ready to take orders as special education students who are 18 and older open and operate a cafe at IDEA Toros on Friday in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Rise and THRIVE Cafe is but one of the numerous job-learning learning opportunities provided by the THRIVE program for its 18 students. Students are also able to help with cleaning and mopping the cafeteria as well as preparing fruit and sorting various items.

“Our students also help out in the front office sorting, mailing, stamping, delivering stuff to the teachers and whatnot, as well as with the buses and transportation,” Brenda Banda, job coach and cafe manager said.

Following the ceremony, the students escorted the guests to Flexible Learning Space 200, where the cafe is located. Once there, the students switched gears and began opening their new cafe. One student handed out a clipboard with an order form attached. Patrons are able to select from a wide variety of hot or cold coffee beverages as well as a few pastries.

Once the form is filled out, the order is prepared by a group of students. Upon completion, a student then delivers the order to the customer.

Banda said opening the cafe took months of preparation, including an application and interview process for each position, as well as an exuberant amount of training.

“It is a lot of work,” Banda said. “It was a lot of back work, a lot of training. Our students had never dealt with an espresso machine, so it was lesson plan after lesson plan to get to be able to tamp the coffee grounds, make sure there are no channels inside it. It’s a whole process with the espresso machine. I don’t think a lot of people know the amount of work it takes in order to achieve a good tasting espresso shot.”

Banda said that the ultimate goal is for one of the students to succeed her as cafe manager and be able to run the cafe without her having to be present during business hours.

“The cafe will run by itself, eventually,” Banda said.

Aceves earned the position of greeter for the cafe. He said that he wants to someday work at a zoo because he loves animals. He also said that he would like to become a public speaker, a talent he flawlessly demonstrated as master of ceremonies during the ribbon cutting ceremony.

“We are doing the opening ceremony to our new business, Rise and THRIVE Cafe,” Aceves said as his fellow classmates prepared orders. “We sell coffee and pastries. I am in charge of greeting people and also delivering. I’m good at being a greeter.”

Lopez, who was the entertainment during the ceremony, said he’s been playing guitar since he was 11-years-old. He acquired an internship with the school through the THRIVE program. He helps maintain the school’s cleanliness, a job he enjoys. He also hopes to be a music teacher in the future.

“I want to teach people how to play the guitar,” he said. “I like BLACKPINK, BTS, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran and the Jonas Brothers.”

Once the orders were completed, Lopez handed out cards to the patrons that said, “Thank you.”

The cafe is available to IDEA Toros staff Monday through Friday from 8 to 10 a.m. with delivery service available to classrooms.

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View Monitor photojournalist Joel Martinez’s photo gallery of the ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the IDEA Toros College Prep’s new cafe Friday morning:

Photo Gallery: IDEA opens student-run cafe on Edinburg campus