When your moment in the sun arrives, you'd be fortunate to be as ready to embrace it as Charlie Hughes was his.
Literally, as it turned out.
Charlie, a developmentally disabled 25-year-old from Palo Alto, is a lifetime San Francisco Giants fan. Last year, after giving an inspirational speech at a benefit for the nonprofit, Hope Services, Charlie was approached by former Giant great, Will Clark.
“He asked me if there was anything he could do for me,” Charlie recalls. Charlie was very ready with an answer. “I told him I wanted to throw out the first pitch at a Giants game.”
Will said yes, and last week, delivered on that promise.
Charlie threw out the first pitch at AT&T Park on May 27 before a game against the Chicago Cubs.
While the pitch, to be honest, was nothing special (it was more than a little outside the strike zone), what happened afterwards was.
Charlie Hughes leaped into Sergio Romo's arms after throwing out the first pitch on May 27th
Charlie ran from the mount to retrieve the ball from Giants relief pitcher, Sergio Romo. Instead of shaking his hand, Charlie leaped into Sergio’s arms, wrapping his legs around him in a joyous bear hug.
“I don’t know why I did it,” Charlie laughs. “I kind of wish I hadn’t.”
The crowd, though, loved it. So did the thousands upon thousands of people who shared a photo of the moment on social media the following day. The joy in Charlie's face, and actions, triggering joy and inspiration in many others.
Least of all, his mom, Kathleen.
“I just laughed,” Kathleen says. “That’s Charlie.”
Charlie, and his twin brother Peter, were born three months premature and weighed barely 3 pounds between them
But Charlie inspiring his mother is nothing new. He’s been doing it every since he and his twin brother, Peter, were born three months premature. Together, they barely weighed three pounds.
“They were fighters,” Kathleen says.
Charlie lived on a respirator for the first nine months of his life, and has encountered difficulties learning his whole life. Charlie, ever a Giants fan, used game re-caps and box scores to help teach himself reading and math.
Kathleen was worried, though, about what job opportunities might await Charlie after he was done with high school. She decided to get him some experience.
Relying on a background in catering, Kathleen convinced Charlie’s Palo Alto middle school to let the special education students run an on-campus cafe, selling baked goods and coffee to students and teachers. It was popular with the customers. It was valuable to the staff.
“Students in special education often feel disconnected from their community,” Kathleen says. The daily interaction with mainstream students, Kathleen believes, brought the whole school closer together.
It is why, when Charlie started high school, that Kathleen started a similar cafe there. And now that he’s done with school, Kathleen is so convinced of the good such an operation can do, she and Charlie are taking the idea out into the real world.
When Palo Alto’s newest, multi-million dollar Mitchell Park library complex opens up later this year, the on-site restaurant will be Ada’s Cafe. Run by Kathleen, and Charlie’s twin brother Peter, Ada’s Cafe will be staffed with developmentally disabled “associates” as well as employees tasked with working closely with them.
Kathleen says she has always seen in Charlie the benefits of getting out into the world and interacting with the general public. Getting paid for doing it? Even better.
"Knowing you are valued enough to receive a paycheck is huge,"Kathleen says.
Until the library complex is finished, Ada’s Cafe is operating as a catering company, already impressing customers with the quality of their food, and their mission.