Nikos Wallingford is passionate about food, meeting new people and living his best life.
He’s also curious, specifically with how restaurants and cafes are run behind the counter. This idea led Nikos to brew up a bold project, as part of a year-long internship at BRIO Integrated Theatre in Winchester, MA.
His story begins back in December of 2017, when he was welcomed into the NuPath family by Leigh Wilmot, the Organization’s Director of Day Services in Westford. “I liked Nikos from day one,” she said. “He is a very passionate guy and loved getting to know everyone here at the program and being out in the community.”
Soon after, he joined one of NuPath’s “No-Walls” program, captained by Team Leader Marissa Van Ryzin. “He’s been a great addition to our team,” she said. “He’s very friendly, social, has a genuine love for life and loves trying new things, especially restaurants.”
This was the foundation for an ambitious plan, to learn the ins-and-outs of how coffee shops are run. Nikos and NuPath partnered with BRIO to reach out to local restaurants, asking for interviews as part of his internship with the Winchester-based nonprofit.
Sahar Ahmed, BRIO’s Executive Director, was eager to help Nikos out. “He really wanted to see how coffee shops run,” she said. “BRIO was determined to make his final project a success and accomplish something great.”
Months went by as Nikos sent dozens of emails to local coffee shops. His requests for interviews were ignored. It seemed as if time and patience was running thin…until Laura Fuller found out.
“Sahar is a frequent customer of ours and, when she told me about (the project), I was thrilled to help (her and Nikos) out,” she said.
Fuller is the namesake behind The FULLer Cup in Winchester. Fuller is not only the business owner of this quaint coffee shop on Thompson Street, but she also helps her employees with baking, making coffee and treating her customers as if they were her own family.
“Everyone has their passions in life – for me, it’s always involved food and coffee,” she said. “When I found out that Nikos was a foodie and loved coffee shops, it was a no-brainer to participate.”
In his short film titled “Neighborhood Places”, Nikos, who is non-verbal, uses “TouchChat” to talk with Laura about the The FULLer Cup, how it started and some of their signature items. His father, Steve Wallingford, says that the TouchChat app is a clear example of “how technology can help Nikos live a gratifying life. His non-verbal communication…shows how proud my son was of what he accomplished.”
“(Using TouchChat) was great because it not only enabled Nikos to complete his project, but it also educates others that there are several ways we can communicate,” Ahmed said. “It’s also important to show the community that people with disabilities can achieve great things.”
Nikos’ story is the latest personification of NuPath’s mission of making life’s journey happier, healthier and more fulfilling for people living with disabilities in action. “Watching Nikos’ face, when he saw the video for the first time, warmed my heart,” Wilmot said. “I’m so glad we were all able to collaborate, unite and share ideas together to fulfill his dream.”
Marina Eleftheriou, Nikos’ mother, is also appreciative of the efforts that NuPath’s progressive “No Walls” program has left on her son. “We’re happy he’s a part of this program, since it involves a number of meaningful community activities,” she said. “The variety keeps Nikos engaged and makes him feel good about making positive contributions to his community.”
Nikos’ journey and dedication to the project were just two of the many moving parts that were required to execute to finished product, according to Van Ryzin. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the team effort from NuPath, Sahar, Laura (Ames), his parents and the team at WinCam,” she said. “I’m proud we were able to make this work for Nikos.”
In the end, it was a great example of how passion, determination and teamwork percolated into a product that was good until the last drop.