On Jan. 30, ECLC of New Jersey was excited to celebrate the official opening of Sorriso Kitchen, a new restaurant on Main Street in Chatham with more than just food on the menu.
Sorriso is owned by Karen and Jimmy Bellas, whose son LJ attends the ECLC Chatham school. They were inspired by LJ to use their new enterprise to help ECLC students with special needs.
Every Monday, they close Sorriso and open it up exclusively for ECLC students to spend a class there, learning job skills. They are also selling mugs, totes and cards with the Sorriso logo, printed by ECLC students in SKIL (Seeking Knowledge for Independent Living) class.
“This is such a wonderful opportunity for our students and our school to come here and use this beautiful space as a classroom where they can learn all the skills necessary for working in a food establishment,” said Principal Jason Killian. “It’s a tremendous sacrifice for Sorriso to close every Monday and open up to our students. We are truly grateful.”
At the opening, Karen and Jimmy Bellas described how the idea grew from a dinner table conversation into reality. “We wanted Sorriso to be a place where people could feel good and be happy because that’s how our boys make us feel and that’s exactly what it has turned into,” said Karen Bellas. “We get such joy out of seeing those kids come in on Mondays and put their aprons on. They give us their all! It warms our hearts.”
Sorriso Kitchen is just one business where ECLC students gain real-world, work experience. As part of their preparation to graduate, Upper School students move out into the community to “sample” jobs in child care, retail, maintenance, office administrative support and more. The Chatham community and surrounding towns have embraced the students, offering job-sampling sites, since the school opened 30 years ago in a former public school building. The goal is to prepare students for independent living and for a smooth transition from school to adulthood!