Looking around the so-kitschy-it’s-cool room adorned with action figures, colorful posters, a shark’s head and a neon-lit karaoke stage, one can immediately tell that the Starry Night Café is special, magical even. The small cafe located in Hicksville, New York, is more than just a place to buy coffee; it’s a place where differences are championed and meaningful friendships are cultivated.
Attached to the back of the CN Guidance & Counseling Services, the Starry Night Café functions as a safe haven and entertainment venue for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The motto of the café is “where friends meet,” something that symbolizes its overarching mission of inclusivity. On any given evening, Starry Night’s customers can bond over an array of activities from Jenga to dancing, transforming the back of the center into a space for socialization, relaxation and expression—something often lacking in treatment facilities.
The stage in front is the heart and soul of the venue, used for sharing poems, stand-up routines, musical talents, even belly dancing. Patrons enjoy the opportunity to showcase their skills in a welcoming environment where their work is not just appreciated but celebrated. Local bands often come to perform for and with Starry Night’s customers, often remarking that the atmosphere is far livelier and more welcoming than that of a traditional concert hall. Music and singing fill the air as people discover their own gifts and connect with one another, nary a pretension in sight.
More communities need to duplicate this. Do it where you are, and you will see the difference in your community. This works.
Starry Night Café even offers employment for its customers. Miss “B” Artale, manager of the establishment, is grateful for her diligent and hardworking employees. They’re able to gain hands-on experience in an environment that provides a sense of comfort and support. These experiences are hugely important to those with intellectual disabilities, as they provide a strong foundation and skillset for potential jobs down the road.
The robust creative and educational opportunities Starry Night offers are complemented by the meaningful friendships it cultivates. It’s a place for individuals to learn and express themselves, while also enjoying total acceptance. The milestones and memories made within this community can be life-changing, as the cafe gives those with intellectual disabilities a chance to socialize and learn with their peers in such a unique way.
Prejudice and labels have no place at the Starry Night Café. The magic of the café therefore lies in its ability to unite groups over their differences, rather than divide them. It’s no wonder the patrons come for the karaoke and coffee, but stick around for the strong friendships forged.