'Doors Open Dishes' aims to help adults with disabilities

Chicago Proud
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Serving up delicious dishes to help adults with disabilities. That's the simple concept behind a new initiative that launched this month called Doors Open Dishes.

The Northbrook woman behind it turned to her brother for the inspiration and she is making us Chicago Proud.

A sister's love is the driving force behind a program that focuses on keeping the doors open at group homes and workshops of individuals with special needs.

"I was inspired a few years ago when it dawned on me the issues we were having in our state with the budget crisis. Just how much this was affecting Daniel and his programs," said Nicole Schnitzler, founder of Doors Open Dishes.

Nicole's eldest brother Daniel was diagnosed with autism. Now at 42 years old, it is programs like the one at Gateway to Learning that help Daniel succeed in his adult life.

"He means ... a lot to me he's a hero in my life and huge inspiration to me," Schnitzler said. "When you have a program like Gateway that is instrumental in the well being of Daniel and his future and also for our family to be able to carry on and be able to really have the things that we need in our daily lives."

Gateway to Learning provides post-secondary education life skills training for adults with disabilities through pre-employment training, community integration and culinary arts. Executive Director Kathryn Lavin says new programs like Doors Open Dishes give a new opportunities to be included in the community.

"Doors Open Dishes is an amazing connector not only for additional funds but to the community. I think that the ability to be part of the community and bring integration and inclusion into the community is a great asset to additional funds that come in," Lavin said.

The additional funding comes from the food! Each month Doors Open Dishes links a Chicago-based chef with agencies like Gateway to create a special dish with a portion of the proceeds benefiting that organization. Cindy's Executive Chef Christian Ragano was more than happy to be the first chef on board, taking the opportunity to give back and honor a member of his family.

"In two ways, Nikki is a great person and I really wanted to do this for her and her brother and B my great aunt was severely autistic and if effected my family and my father greatly. I never got to know her but I was named after her though," Ragano said.

Ragano's Chicken Milanese is inspired by Daniel's favorite meal items like peas, carrots and fried chicken with an added flare in hopes that food will be the key to connect us all.

"We started to talk about the things he likes to eat. Everyone's connection is through food. Everyone's first memory of somebody loving them is feeding them. Everyone can bond over food," he said.

"I just hope that through Doors Open Dishes we are really able to communicate that need right now and through one of Daniel's Favorite means which is food," Schnitzler said.

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