Sports Fans Support Concession Stand Staffed by Participants with Developmental Disabilities
As thousands of Baltimore Ravens fans celebrated the NFL team’s 25-9 win over the Houston Texans at the recent season opener, Yachad participants and staff marked a second big win that day at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium: the opening of Yachad’s Kosher Grill, the first-ever kosher concession stand run by participants with developmental disabilities.
Yachad, a division of the Orthodox Union, helps individuals with intellectual, developmental, and learning disabilities participate more fully in the community, via social, recreational, educational, and vocational programs in 10 regions across the United States, Israel and Canada.
Located in Baltimore’s M&T Stadium, Yachad’s Kosher Grill is staffed by Yachad participants who work on rotation, and one to two supervisors per game. Employees are selected based on their interest and abilities to handle tasks including stocking and organizing the fridge, plating food, and filling orders correctly. Yitzi Lencz and Yosef Katz were the lucky Yachad participants chosen to work at the season opener.
The stand offers a varied menu of hotdogs, corned beef, turkey and pastrami wraps, sushi, water and beer. In support of Yachad, Star-K, a national Kashrus organization based in Baltimore, is graciously supervising the kosher supervision at no charge.
“Yachad’s mission centers on three pillars that define an individual’s personality and feelings of self-worth: their relationships, their education and their job,” says Yachad’s Assistant Director Michael Appelbaum. “Employment is important for everyone and even more so for people with developmental disabilities. Like anyone else, it gives them meaning and a sense of productivity.”
Yachad’s Kosher Grill provides an opportunity for people with developmental disabilities to contribute to society via fulfilling work, says Appelbaum. It also enables Yachad to highlight the potential of people with developmental disabilities on a very large scale — M&T Stadium has a seating capacity of 71,008, and thousands of people will see Yachad participants working the concession stand in the coming weeks.
“The stand is meant to show any person walking by, that people with disabilities can be active members of the community in many different ways, including through service and work,” says Yachad’s International Director Avromie Adler.
Appelbaum oversees Yachad’s vocational program run by Jewish Union Foundation (JUF), Yachad’s Medicaid-funded arm. He notes that when people with developmental disabilities graduate high school, they generally pursue one of three options.
“Some go to college, some get a job immediately, and the vast majority of Yachad participants go to a day habilitation program where they work on hard skills — like how to scan and save documents, how to work a cash register, or set a table, or pour water — and soft skills, like the proper way to talk to colleagues, how to interact with a boss, or how to present oneself appropriately at work. Some master these skills for the purpose of getting a job, while others learn them simply to live a productive life.”
JUF operates vocational training programs in Brooklyn, Long Island, and New Jersey, and will
soon be opening a fourth program in Baltimore. A total of 115 people are enrolled, and about 30 of them are employed, largely in the retail, food service and office administration sectors. Depending on the individual being trained, vocational training can span weeks to years.
Yachad’s Kosher Grill is the brainchild of Barry Nabozny, father of 26-year-old Yachad participant Yoni Nabozny. Having completed his vocational training at The Arc Baltimore, Yoni works mornings in Northwest Hospital’s Patient Access division and afternoons at Cocoaccinos, Accents Grill and Serengeti kosher restaurants.
Both Barry and Yoni are avid Ravens fans, and a number of months ago, Barry came up with the idea for the stand.
“The stadium previously had a kosher stand, and it just clicked in my head,” Barry recalls. “I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to work with Yachad and JUF to reopen a kosher stand where we could employ our participants and simultaneously create awareness for the general public.”
He contacted Sarah Conlin, the general manager of Food and Beverage Operations at Aramark, which owns the stadium concessions. She loved the idea, and together with Star-K and Yachad, Nabozny says, his dream came to fruition.
“All of Aramark’s support staff have been so positive,” says Nabozny. “They’ve done whatever it takes to ensure that we would be successful and have helped us with everything from signage to products. This has also been an absolutely beautiful opportunity for achdus, with Star-K, the Vaad Hakashrus in Baltimore, and the OU, working together.”
On opening game day, Nabozny and City Director of Yachad Baltimore Sima Levine ran Yachad’s Kosher Grill alongside Yachad participants Lencz and Katz. Yoni preferred to watch the first game and is eagerly anticipating his turn at the grill.
Nabozny and Levine note that the outpouring of community support in the form of high-fives, compliments and patronage was overwhelming from people of all backgrounds, including those who had never previously heard of Yachad.
Among the stand’s visitors were Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby and Councilman Yitzy Schleifer, and a mother and two children with Down syndrome who thanked the team for their initiative and told them how much it meant to her family.
“At the game, dozens of people supported us by buying food or simply giving our staff members high-fives and encouragement, and it was really, really, beautiful to see,” says Levine. “Since the kickoff event, people have called and emailed us to donate to Yachad, and to ask when we’re going to be back at the stadium.”
Levine adds that the Yachad participants who worked at the stand derived great pleasure from being part of the stadium’s bustle and excitement and enjoyed helping to run a concession stand that was appreciated by so many.
“I found it fun and entertaining to work serving food in an environment involving sports,” says Katz. “I can’t wait for the next game!”
Lencz agrees: “It was great! I loved it!”
OU Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph says, “The Orthodox Union is proud to partner with the Baltimore Ravens, Star-K, M&T Bank Stadium, and its official food and beverage provider Aramark, on Yachad’s Kosher Grill. This wonderful initiative highlights the potential of people of all abilities to contribute and shine — when given opportunities. It sets a beautiful example for others to follow, and we applaud them all for leading the way.”
The Ravens will be playing nine home games at M&T Bank Stadium during the 17-week NFL season, plus playoffs should they qualify. Yachad’s Kosher Grill will open again on October 22, 2023 and can be found at Section 142 on the Lower Concourse on the west / Russell St. side of the stadium.