We Need a Coffee Shop Like This One in Every Town

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A coffee shop in Wilmington, North Carolina, has become a hometown hit for a few reasons — the biggest being it provides employment opportunities for staffers with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Amy Wright, whose son Beau and daughter Bitty have Down syndrome, opened Beau’s Coffee  on Jan. 25 and hired more than a dozen staffers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to help her run it.

Wright got the idea to launch the business just a few months prior, and she says it’s hundreds of customers have visited each day in the two weeks since its doors opened. “While establishing Beau’s Coffee unfolded very quickly, my husband and I have been advocating for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for over a decade,” she told The Mighty. “Beau’s Coffee just flowed from this passion.”

Beau and Bitty, the inspiration behind Beau's Coffee
Beau and his little sister Bitty, the inspiration behind Beau’s Coffee (Image courtesy of Amy Wright / Beau’s Coffee)

Nearly 70 percent of adults living with intellectual disabilities are unemployed, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Wright finds this statistic completely unacceptable. “People with IDD make wonderful employees who can make positive contributions to a business when given the chance,” she told The Mighty. “My experience has been that people with special needs bring a refreshing perspective to every moment in life. Working alongside this population has been one of my greatest joys in life.”

“We knew we were creating jobs,” Wright wrote on Beau’s Coffee’s Facebook page. “What we didn’t know was that we were creating a culture. Just look around Beau’s Coffee and you’ll find people from all walks of life doing life together. Everybody counts.”

The team behind Beau's Coffee
The team behind Beau’s Coffee (Image courtesy of Amy Wright / Beau’s Coffee)

Wright’s main hope for Beau is that he lives a happy and fulfilling life, but she’d be delighted if he was interested in taking over the family business. Wright told local website StarNewsOnline she also hopes to expand with new locations over the next few years. “I would love for Wilmington to be a model (that) integrate(s) people with disabilities into the workforce,” she said. “Now, let’s try to replicate it elsewhere.”

Wright originally hosted a community meeting to share her plans for Beau’s Coffee, and from there she was able to meet potential employees.  The company is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and currently 18 staffers with IDD are employed.

Matt Dean, 26, has autism. He lives with parents in Wilmington and spends several days a week working at Beau’s Coffee. Dean told The Mighty he got the position after attending that meeting, and he’s been there since day one.

He says he loves working at Beau’s Coffee and can’t decide what he likes more — the camaraderie with his coworkers or helping customers. “It’s amazing,” Dean told The Mighty. “I love all of the nice customers, and it gets packed, so we stay busy — especially on Fridays. I love being around other people. All my coworkers are friendly, and they do such a super awesome job.”

When asked what advice he has for other individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are hoping to find employment, Dean told The Mighty, “Never give up and keep on trying. Just keep moving forward and believe in yourself.”

Beau's Coffee staffers
Two baristas at Beau’s Coffee (Image courtesy of Amy Wright / Beau’s Coffee)

Michelle Slape, executive director at International Down Syndrome Society (IDSC), told The Mighty in the last year there’s been a rise in the number of businesses employing individuals with disabilities.

“Hopefully, in the coming years more companies will follow Amy’s lead and see the potential  adults with disabilities have,” Slape said. “As a parent of a 9-year-old with Down syndrome, I hope opportunities such as this are readily available for him when he is older and that the 70-percent unemployement rate for those with IDD has been significantly reduced.”

“Our community has completely embraced Beau’s Coffee,” Wright added. “Every expectation that we had has been exceeded.”

Beau's Coffee staffers
The staffers at Beau’s Coffee are all smiles (Image courtesy of Amy Wright / Beau’s Coffee)

All images courtesy of Amy Wright / Beau’s Coffee

For more information, visit Beau’s Coffee on the web and Facebook.

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5 Times It’s Better to Say Nothing at All to a Special Needs Family

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As a mom of two girls with special needs, I’ve heard some doozies from well-intentioned people who are trying to assuage the challenging reality of caregiving. I’ve come to understand that people generally don’t know what to say when they learn something difficult about someone – chronic disease, a medically fragile child, an ailing parent with dementia, etc.

While they want to say something in response to their discovery, they aren’t sure what will be helpful. So they likely blurt out something they’ve heard before – a cliché – that they believe will bring you comfort and encouragement.

The truth is, there are moments when I feel it’s better to say nothing at all than any of the following:

1. “Remember to count your blessings, because there are people who have it much worse than you do.”

I think many of us who are facing illness, ongoing grief, or caregiving have heard this one more than once. We may know there are people who have greater hardships than we do, but it’s hurtful to hear someone completely deflect the reality of our current frustrations. Sometimes we may just want a listening and empathetic ear rather than this logic. In fact, guilt can quite possibly trickle in when we hear this, and that’s not something we need more of.

2. “I’m so sorry to hear about your son/daughter’s diagnosis.”

The first time I heard this, I was completely taken aback. I think what startled me was that my first thought was, “But I’m not sorry.”

Naturally, I never wanted my children to face the challenges that come with sensory processing disorder or Apert syndrome or any other diagnosable disease. But when someone told me they felt pity for me because of my daughters’ diagnoses, it stung. I don’t want to elicit sympathy, since I’m grateful for the opportunity to raise such amazing girls.

3. “Special parents get special children.”

On the flip-side, this statement is equally as frustrating to hear as the previous one, though their meanings are entirely opposite. While I do feel that my children are incredible gifts, I do not believe I am anybody “special.” I’m an ordinary mom. I think telling a parent who has a child with special needs that they must be special negates the truth of the matter: that sometimes there are flukes in life, irrespective of who we are.

 4. “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”

This platitude seems to be the go-to moniker for anything that might cause worry, sadness, fear, anger or frustration. People who say this may not realize how hollow it sounds, even though it can seem to be a perfect way to end an uncomfortable conversation. The truth is, none of us has any way of knowing if everything is going to be fine or not, and I feel it’s unfair and insulting to presume that what we’ve shared will somehow magically end up rosy.

 5. “I don’t know how you do everything. I could never do all that you are!”

Here’s the deal: Yes, I believe you would do everything I am doing if you were in my situation. We do all that’s possible and available to help our children reach their potential.

Sometimes that means making huge sacrifices. In my mind, this is simply called love. You do more than you think you are able to do when you love someone wholeheartedly.

BONUS: Don’t mention your problems and say you can relate.

The “one upper” is always a delight, right? I have people tell me how worried they are about their child’s symptoms, or that they were just diagnosed with a rare disease themselves, or that they totally understand what I’m going through because

I believe no one can know what someone else is dealing with. We can empathize (and I feel we should), but we cannot claim to know what life is like for them.

Sometimes people find a list of “dos” helpful when they aren’t sure how to navigate special needs situations. I happen to think a list of “don’ts” is equally valuable, because most people genuinely want to be consoling and encouraging.

The problem is that few people understand when it’s best to say something and when it’s more appropriate to simply listen with concern. Every time I’ve shared with other moms this unofficial list of “don’ts,” they tell me how relieved they are to know what may be offensive for me to hear. I tend to tell them I think difficult life circumstances seem to warrant more silence than speaking, and it’s best to err on the side of caution rather than say anything at all.

two young girls in sandbox

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When I Saw Myself as ‘Needy’ for Asking a Friend to Help Put On My Shoes

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I still remember the overwhelming shame I felt when I had to ask a friend to come over and help me put my shoes on. It is often awkward being a physically disabled college student. That day there was a miscommunication between me and my personal care attendant, leaving me with a difficult decision: stay in my dorm all day or ask one of the only acquaintances I had to put on my shoes. Neither choice was optimal in my opinion.

After a half hour of staring at my purple, swollen feet and attempting to squeeze my toes into a pair of form-fitting running sneakers, my shaking fingers typed, “I know this sounds weird, but can you please help me put on my shoes?” Upon sending the message, regret infiltrated my thoughts.

How can I ask someone to help me put on my shoes? I have only been here for two weeks. They will see me as a charity case, I thought.

erica mones
Erica.

Admittedly, these are drastic conclusions to jump to upon asking a friend for help, but as a disabled person, I often feel that my health and personal care needs put a strain on my friendships. Furthermore, I fear that if I constantly ask my peers for assistance, they will not want to spend time with me or invite me places because I am too “high maintenance.” I thought most friends weren’t interested in spending time with someone who has to wait for the lower tables to be free at the dining hall, or someone who needs to take the accessible route (which always seems to be longer than the inaccessible route). Yet that September morning, I realized I was wrong.

My friend did not seem fazed that I asked him for help. Only I was fixated on it. When I saw myself as “needy,” my peers showed me that although my specific needs may be uncommon, every person needs help at some point or another. Some people need help making friends, others need help learning math. Those are not shameful needs, so I should not be ashamed of my feet.

After my friend left, I went for a walk. My feet clad in red, polka-dot running shoes carried me wherever I wanted to go. They were my feet, and whether I choose to accept them or not, they will always be my feet.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe a time you saw your disability, illness and/or disease through the eyes of someone else. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected]. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When My Child Felt Left Out, a Stranger Had a Powerful Response

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Have you ever had a stranger do something so incredibly awesome it just makes you want to cry? I have. And it happened just this week. I pray the kindness and power of what the stranger did for me and my 4-year-old daughter impacts you the way it has impacted me. Some people make a mark on other lives that can never, ever be erased.

We went out as a family to a local place to eat. Everyday events like this have their challenges for every family, but more so for mine due to the complexity of my son’s needs and the fact we need to balance his needs with that of my daughter’s. We opted for the local carvery. No waiting to get orders taken, the kids can see what they want on their plates and we can eat together without the usual demands for nuggets and fries.

It’s a challenge to feed my daughter in such places because her diet is so restricted, but a little mashed potato, a few selected vegetables and a little gravy got her picking at her dinner while quietly coloring. Her twin brother had his usual loaded plate and was eating like a child who had never seen a dinner before. I promise you they are twins, but you would never believe it to see them eat!

However, even with food, my son’s attention span can only last a limited time, and he was soon clambering over his dad, wanting off to run around. A knowing look and wink of the eye was my signal that I was going to take over. To my 5-year-old son’s flapping, smiling delight, he was getting Mum. He brought a smile to my face, but then I glanced at my daughter and my heart sank. Eyes bunched up with tears ready to explode at any minute, and a tender voice so timidly saying through her beautiful blue eyes, “I want you to stay, Mummy.”

They both need me so differently. And whatever I do, one of them is about to protest publicly. I really must get that cardboard cutout of myself done. It’s the only way I can think of being in two places at once. And tonight I so want to be with both my babies.

I “chose” my son but prayed my daughter would know she wasn’t being rejected. I kissed her cheek quickly as my son vanished out of sight. “Come find Mummy, baby, when you have finished your dinner.” I worry she feels like her wants and needs don’t matter. This isn’t true, but how do you balance the physical and communicational needs of one child with the social and emotional needs of the other? Dad reassured her and encouraged her, but it just wasn’t enough.

As my son ran up and down in a little garden outside, a group of strangers watched on as they drank and ate and talked. One young couple watched him with smiling faces and pleasant eyes. And then my little girl appeared and held my hand in the warm sunshine as we stood side by side watching her energetic brother. The smiling strangers asked if it was her brother, to which she smiled and nodded. They invited us closer and handed her two coins, one for her and one for her brother. So very kind of them. And without prompting, my daughter said thank you. We exchanged a brief conversation that her brother had special needs and that the children were twins. The lady reached into her handbag and fished for something. I hoped it wasn’t more money. She found what she was searching for and beckoned my daughter to come nearer.

Looking my precious daughter in the eye, she spoke lovingly and tenderly to her as she asked her a question. “Would you like to see a picture of the most beautiful girl in the world?”

A whispered, “Yes.”

To which the stranger opened a little love heart makeup mirror and showed my daughter her reflection. To see my daughter smile and touch her reflection as she realized this stranger was talking about her was incredibly touching.

Little girl holding heart-shaped pink mirror

“You are so beautiful. Inside and out. Every time you look inside here, remember you are special.”

The words of a stranger were the exact words I believe she needed to hear that day. The lady gave her the mirror to keep, and my daughter has barely let it go since.

I thanked the lady and her partner for the coins, the gift and the joy they had brought to my heart. But how do you truly thank a stranger for saying exactly what you believe your 4-year-old needed to hear? I believe God puts people across our path at exactly the right time, and I’m thankful for that.

I believe we all need to hear this message, too. We can all feel left out at times. And every one of us needs to know we are beautiful inside and out. We are special. And my daughter now loves to tell me, “Mummy I am the most beautiful girl in the world.” Yes, baby girl, you are indeed.

Follow this journey on Faithmummy.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What Keeps Me Up at Night as a Special Needs Mom

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What keeps me up at night — my list is endless. I imagine yours is, too. In the very early days, the worries were somewhat smaller. When will you catch up? At some point, that when turned to if. Around the same time, my concerns turned to: Will other children include you? Will they adore you as I do? Will your teachers be kind? Will they treat you with the dignity and respect you deserve?

What will medical insurance deny this time? How many months and endless follow-through will be required to straighten it out? How many doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions are scheduled today, this week, this month, this year, and how do we continually coordinate your care? What obstacles will our school district force us to overcome? What happened to kindness, integrity, respect?

Will you take your medicine? Or will your sensory system prevent you from getting it down? Will you end up in the hospital as a result again? Grow resistant to antibiotics?

Are you making progress? What more can we be doing?

Over time, the worries change, but they still systematically infiltrate what feels like my every waking moment.

What happens when you grow up? What happens when I’m gone? Who doesn’t worry about that? No matter how much we try to plan and prepare, will it ever be enough? How does one heed the advice to live in the present, when so many of our actions are driven to plan for the future?

Will you be able to be independent? If not, who will care for you? Is it wrong to ask your sister to step in? What if she simply chooses not to? Who then, if not her?

Will you be able to drive? Meet the person of your dreams and get married? Have children? Who will see to your medical care? Who will see to your needs, that you live comfortably, are well-nourished, have proper clothing? Who will manage your finances?

Who will advocate for what you need and make sure you get it?

Will you be safe?

What does your future look like? Will it shine brightly, like you?

I know I’m supposed to stay strong, cast my doubts aside. I can’t always do that. Often I just don’t know how.

For tonight, I hope that what keeps me up at night will instead be my overwhelming gratitude for my husband for his love and patience, for my daughter/your sister for her understanding, for my parents who have gone above and beyond the role of grandparents, for your talented and devoted medical team, your amazing and dedicated therapists, for those who support us in this journey, and for you.

I love you with all of my heart, and with all of my soul, for your strength, your joyous spirit, your resilience, your grace, your beauty, for your smile.

I will be forever grateful, for you have transformed our lives in ways we could not have envisioned. You make me and those who surround you better, simply by being you.

Mom holding her daughter. They're on a beach.

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16 Songs That Have Helped People With Chronic Illnesses Through a Tough Time

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Living with a chronic illness can mean a lot of ups and downs. And sometimes, especially during the “downs,” the perfect song can make a rough day feel… well… less rough, even if just for a few minutes.

We asked our readers with chronic illnesses to share some of the songs that have helped them while they face tough times.

This is what they had to say:

1. “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten

“My mom heard it on the radio last summer when I was fighting for my life. It kind of stuck as my song.” — Lauren Gomez

2. “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan

3. “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J

“A couple seconds of shadow boxing, no matter how weak or halfhearted, (even if I’m laying in bed) and I feel tough enough to go on.” — Elizabeth Rajchart

4. “Human” by Christina Perri

5. “Warrior” by Demi Lovato

“[This song] is a top choice for my daughter who has common variable immune deficiency and for me with multiple sclerosis (MS) and three other autoimmune diseases.” — Betty Hallenbeck

6. “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” by Kelly Clarkson

7. “Harder Better Faster” by Daft Punk

“If I need the strength and motivation to get out of bed, [this song] is great.” — Monica Jean Cozadd

8. “Who You Are” by Jessie J

9. “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips

“I’ve been sick so long that mine is from 1990.” — Chronic Beauty

10. “Roar” by Katy Perry

11. “Murderers” by John Frusciante

“It has a steady, throbbing, continuous beat that also helps me push through when things are hard. Plus, I invent my own lyrics with the sound (since it is instrumental), usually ‘Oh my hands hurt, can’t you see I’m in pain?’ Over and over again — a mantra of acknowledgment and cry for help. I don’t know why it helps so much, but it does.” — Julie Pruitt

12. “Phenomenal” by Eminem

13. “Swim” by Jack’s Mannequin

“The line, ‘just keep your head above’ gets me every time.” — Alana Schuurs

14. “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic

15. “Heavy in Your Arms” by Florence And The Machine

“Honestly music in general has always been an escape for me. Singing along and listening to the lyrics sets me free for even just a short time.” — Lacey Harvey

16. “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus

What are some song that help you get through the rough days? Let us know in the comments below!

Related: 20 Songs People Listen to When Anxiety Keeps Them Up at Night

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