A Dragonfly Lands at Raphael Village

A growing project on Jackson Avenue aims to contribute to the future of the region’s hospitality workforce.

With diagnoses of autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities on the rise, nonprofit Raphael Village provides a loving and nurturing place for education and personal growth, including the opportunity to work in the culinary arena. 

Since its opening in 2021, the Town Center at Raphael Village has served as the hub of what the organization calls its “urban life sharing village.” It encompasses over 7,000 square feet of programming space at 530 Jackson Avenue serving New Orleans’ differently-abled population. 

Those 18 years and older can apply to be members of The Guild, Raphael Village’s program that provides post-secondary programming with an emphasis on life skills for greater independence and job readiness, such as money management and resume building, as well as vocational internships within the wider community. 

At the heart of Raphael Village is the Dragonfly Café, a sunny, bustling spot where breakfast and lunch are served to the public Wednesday through Sunday. 

From the front door to the kitchen door, guests are greeted by Guild members who ensure everyone feels welcome. One glance at the menu reveals the special relationships in action there as Guild members and Dragonfly employees are recognized by name. Brandi’s Big Breakfast includes three eggs with bacon or sausage, grits and toast. Katherine’s Sweet Potato Hash is a hearty vegetarian option combining sweet potatoes with peppers, onions, and seasonal squashes that also serves as a highlight of Raphael Village’s edible landscape curriculum. 

Guild members cultivate many of the vegetables and herbs used in the café, giving all involved a real taste of farm-to-table dining. In addition to seating for 50 indoors, outside seating is available, weather permitting. 

“We are also marketing the cafe for special events,” said Jacqueline Case, founder and board member of Raphael Village, “The café has a liquor license so we’re really a full-service catering operation.”

The onsite Dragonfly Bakery+Market, led by Master Baker Natalie Lipps, has proven to be a great way for Guild members to discover an affinity for baking. As many as 10 members gather throughout each week to produce all the breads and pastries served at the café. From biscuits, brioche, croissants and ciabatta to dazzling fruit tarts and an astounding array of cookies, baked goods have become popular holiday gifts, and select bakery items can be purchased year-round online at dragonflynola.com/bakery-market.

An early partner at the Dragonfly Café, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation is dedicated to helping people acquire basic job and life skills needed to pursue jobs in the restaurant industry. Their “Restaurant Ready” curriculum provides the Dragonfly Cafe and Guild members with a template for on-the-job training.

Raphael Village also includes a high school Transition Program at Raphael Academy, a state licensed private school offering a Waldorf-inspired curriculum to students in grades nine through twelve. Waldorf education, created in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner, features an emphasis on experiential learning, an ideal way for Raphael members to learn.  

Three times a year, Raphael Village hosts seasonal markets, allowing Guild members to display other artisan skills acquired there. 

“Our onsite fiber studio allows students to weave lovely, handwoven pieces that become scarves, table runners, dish towels and shopping bags that are sold at our seasonal marketplace events,” said Case. “We invite local crafts people to join in, ensuring a broad offering.”

Within the next three years, Raphael Village plans to expand its campus footprint to include The Hearth, a residential life-sharing community. Different from most traditional group home settings, residents will reside with live-in homemakers and support staff, creating an urban village focusing on mutual understanding and personal growth. 

“We can only do this with support from the community,” Case reflected. The nonprofit hosts two annual fundraisers, a spring soiree and a fall tennis tournament, which will expand to include pickleball this year. “We’re always seeking out community partnerships for internships and funding. We welcome all at Raphael Village.” With their motto, “That Good Can Become,” from the classroom to the café, Raphael Village brings that good to New Orleans’ differently abled community each day. 

To learn more, visit raphaelvillage.org.

Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.

Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.