REALITY KITCHEN: WHITEAKER BE UP!
Not many buildings have a black and white checkerboard exterior. Fewer still are the headquarters for a nonprofit autism support program for individuals 21 years and over. And only one of them has Jim Evangelista, the man who took his dream and made it a reality.
“Working with special education children, I saw this great need for services for people 21 and over,” he said. “Being able to support this population of 21 and over is so important, and it’s not being done.”
About a year ago, Evangelista started Reality Kitchen — part community center, part autism support program and part (soon-to-be) organic salad bar and kitchen. Tucked away on Van Buren Street across from Ninkasi Brewery, Evangelista and about 20 other volunteers provide social and academic services and living help to 13 adults with mental disabilities in their Transition Graduate Program.
The idea is to provide students with real world skills such as budgeting, food preparation, meal planning, nutrition, workplace safety, etc., as well as providing constant support for program students. This, according to Evangelista, is what makes Reality Kitchen different from other support programs.
He said although there are organizations that provide assistance to those 21 and over with special needs, it isn’t ongoing and generally ends when the person finds a job. “What they do is to help job opportunities to come around.”
“Hopefully what we’ll be doing is providing more unique and ongoing support,” he said. “We want to get people who are in that transition time, and give them critical focusing skills.”
Evangelista has worn many different hats over the years, alternatively being a muralist (check out “Tuscany,” a mural he did at 12th and High), theater set painter, restaurant owner, anti-war activist in Nicaragua and managing the free library at the Oregon Country Fair. The name Reality Kitchen, the black and white checkerboard pattern and the somewhat ambiguous tagline “Whiteaker Be Up!” are a throwback to the days when he owned a 24/7 restaurant in Gainesville, Fla., also called Reality Kitchen.
He graduated with a bachelor of fine arts from the UO and earned his master’s in special education from UO as well. He is currently working on getting his art therapy license.
“I’ve been blessed; people have been kind, people have been patient,” he said. “This is many things for me; it’s kind of going back to the past, of moving into the future.”
Reality Kitchen is networking with several other organizations that provide services to the mentally disabled, including KindTree — Autism Rocks, Specialized Employment Services and Lane ESD, among others.
“We’re still in the beginning process,” said Eileen Brixey, a volunteer with Reality Kitchen and a member of Autism Rocks. “We’re still trying to figure out who we are. If anybody is interested we recommend they contact us.”
“What I want to do is invite the community here to participate with us,” said Evangelista. “It’s about all of us. We all have unique and special needs. Here we’re very open and very welcoming.”