Oskaloosa Schools Unveil Entrepreneurship Initiative


OSKALOOSA, IA — The Oskaloosa Schools is set to launch its new Oskaloosa Spirit Cafe, an initiative aimed at providing vocational opportunities and promoting inclusivity within the community. 

Slated to open its doors in the summer, the cafe represents a significant milestone in the school district’s commitment to empowering students with special needs and fostering entrepreneurship. It embodies a multifaceted approach that transcends traditional boundaries. 

“The Oskaloosa Spirit Cafe embraces various avenues, including job skills training, job retention, and creating sustainability in our community,” said Sarah Deronde, High School Special Education Teacher. “It’s about providing opportunities for all students to thrive and contribute meaningfully to society.”

Originally conceived as a platform to equip special needs students with essential job skills, the Spirit Cafe has evolved into a dynamic enterprise that welcomes students from diverse backgrounds. In addition to offering opportunities for vocational training, the initiative aims to create pathways for students to pursue higher-level skills, such as culinary arts and management.

One of the most innovative aspects of the Spirit Cafe is the incorporation of entrepreneurship opportunities for adults in the community with special needs. Through partnerships with Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation and local agencies, individuals will have the chance to launch their own businesses, sell products, or offer services within the cafe.

“We will have a storefront and a service wall,” Deronde said. “These are entrepreneurship opportunities for adults in our community with special needs who struggle to find a job. We provide them with the support they need to create their own businesses and showcase their talents.”

The support and enthusiasm of the Oskaloosa community have been instrumental in bringing the Spirit Cafe to fruition. This has taken place through generous contributions and fundraising efforts.

Students in the OHS Entrepreneurship in the Arts class worked to design the Oskaloosa Spirit Cafe building sign and logo, referencing the local architectural history of Frank Lloyd Wright in using his typeface for the sign.  Inside the Spirit Cafe will be art pieces skillfully crafted by OHS students in the Entrepreneurship in the Arts class. The pieces capture moments of joy, unity, and perseverance and include several individuals with special needs who attended Oskaloosa High School. 

Josie Nelson, who is non-verbal and has cortical blindness, is the subject of one of the art pieces that hangs in the Spirit Cafe. She was born with brain damage, which affects all aspects of her life. Josie’s parents, John and Shelly Nelson, adopted her from Haiti 16 years ago. She attended OHS, and the teachers loved her so much that they still know her to this day when they see her around town.

John, Josie’s father, attended the unveiling and expressed gratitude for the Oskaloosa School’s inclusive approach. 

“We are deeply thankful for the thoughtful inclusion of Josie in this project,” he said. “Josie’s inability to speak makes her radiant smile all the more powerful, reflecting the joy and warmth she brings to everyone around her. The chosen picture truly captures the essence of who Josie is, and we are immensely grateful for this heartfelt gesture of inclusion.”

Chasity Richardson, a senior who helped create the art pieces, expressed her pride in the project. 

“It’s truly humbling to know that our art will hang on these walls for years to come,” Richardson said. “Other people will be able to admire our creations and styles, and hopefully bring others together and inspire them to embrace their unique talents.”

The unveiling of the Spirit Cafe marks a significant step forward in Oskaloosa Schools’ mission to provide a comprehensive education that empowers all students to succeed. As the Spirit Cafe prepares to open its doors, it stands as a testament to the power of collaboration, innovation, and community support.

For more information about the Spirit Cafe and Oskaloosa Schools’ initiatives, please contact Sarah Deronde at [email protected] 

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