Partnership between tearoom, training program hits the mark


July 22, 2002|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NOT TOO LONG ago, Inspirations, a booming gift basket company, and Gypsy's Tearoom took over the space formerly occupied by Winchester Country Inn on Stoner Avenue. With the move, the tearoom got a setting with the historic charm it deserved, and the gift basket company/boutique had the room it needed to grow.

What most people don't know about the move is that it also represents a heartfelt partnership between two friends who wanted to give adults with special needs consistent, real-life training opportunities in a nurturing environment.

Tom Zirpoli, executive director of Target Community and Educational Services Inc., had shopped at Inspirations for many years, and he quietly watched as the tearoom at the same Liberty Street location became a popular gathering spot.

He also was keenly aware that as a bed-and-breakfast, Winchester Country Inn provided a good place for Target clients to learn practical skills such as making beds and housekeeping. But the business tended to be seasonal, and the clients were capable of doing much more.

Target Community is a nonprofit agency whose mission is to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities through community-based residential, vocational and recreational services. The organization assists 120 clients.

In January 2001, Zirpoli dropped by to visit Jo Fleck, owner and proprietor of Inspirations and Gypsy's Tearoom. With one question, he planted the seed: Would Fleck consider moving the businesses into a setting with more charm and more space for less rent, in exchange for giving Target clients training opportunities?

"Jo didn't answer right away. I think that she was too stunned," said Zirpoli. "But she called later and said she loved the idea, and off to the races we went."

Fleck and her daughter Lori, her husband, Joe, and a host of family members, friends and co-workers hustled to refurbish the inn. They transformed the rooms downstairs into a combination of cozy spots for tea and larger rooms for birthday parties, group teas and small gatherings.

After many late-night hours of painting, moving in display cases and hanging shelves, they made the top floor ready for the gift basket company and the boutique.

Jo and Lori also hammered out the details of the on-the-job training for Target clients.

"As thrilled as we were with the new location, the partnership, the opportunity to work with Target clients excited us, too," said Jo. "We needed their help, and they already had experience doing laundry, housekeeping and some food preparation."

What made the partnership easier was having one former Target client as an employee.

Pat Driver had charmed her way into a part-time job before Inspirations and Gypsy's Tearoom left its Liberty Street location.

She was hired to wash dishes and do light cleaning, but what Jo and Lori didn't know was that Driver also brought unlimited love to everyone she worked with and a contagious sense of pride in doing her job well.

"No matter how busy it gets, Pat always makes us smile," said Lori.

Driver works in the kitchen mostly, helping Lori with light food preparation and washing dishes. Four other Target clients are working on the premises, doing similar work and gardening.

"We will have 50 to 60 people in training in a given year," said Zirpoli. "Out of this, we hope comes employment - if not here, like Pat's successful placement, then somewhere else."

Gypsy's Tearoom is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Inspirations is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday.

Directions, reservations: 410-857-0058.

Living Treasure

Westminster resident Jackie Smith honors Ellen Hurdell of Union Bridge as her Living Treasure this week.

"Ellen creates standard tiles for my company and tackles every task with enthusiasm and cheer," said Smith. "She has ingenuity. She is persistent, and she has this diehard perfectionism that helps her do her job well. I don't know what I would do without her."

Brighten the day of someone who has made a positive difference in your life. Send in the name and specific reasons why someone has been your living treasure to: Lisa Breslin, 35 Ridge Road, Westminster 21157.

Lisa Breslin's Central neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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