Life Care Plan, Vocational Rehabilitation

Coffee Shop Serves Special Blend of Hope by Employing the Disabled

 January 3, 2017

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

For many of us, the first real sign of hope we encounter on any given day is not a dove or a light in the darkness. It’s that first cup of coffee. Honestly, how could anyone improve on that? As impossible as it may seem, North Carolina business owner Amy Wright has done just that.

When you buy your coffee at Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in Wilmington, North Carolina, you can count on service with a smile from any one of forty very special employees. Each one lives with an intellectual or developmental disability such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism. Having your coffee handed to you by these staffers comes with a very special sort of hope. Just where did such an awesome idea originate?

According to Wright, her best ideas come to her in the shower. We can relate, but not just to the location. Ideas for empowering and enabling those who have intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) are pretty much what fill our heads on a daily basis. The catalyst for those thoughts are where we may differ just a bit. Amy has her own story while it is stories like Amy’s that inspire us.

When Amy Wright was pregnant with her first son, Beau, she was told that he would be born with Down syndrome. That was twelve years ago. At the time, the Wrights knew very little about Down syndrome, a fact which embarrasses them a bit these days. The important thing is that, like most parents, they simply recognized that they needed to be educated or better informed, which is where we normally come in. Clearly, though, the Wright family did not need us.

When Beau was six, he was joined by his little sister, Bitty. Bitty also has Down syndrome. Being the sort of folks who believe in signs, the Wrights began to feel not just experienced with IDDs but called to a greater purpose. The idea for the coffee shop came to Amy when she learned of a statistic that 75-80% of individuals with IDDs are unemployed. That was only last year. Wait until you hear how much has happened in 2016.

Bitty & Beau’s opened as a 500 square foot facility at the corner of Wrightsville and Kerr Avenue in Wilmington. Almost immediately, buzz about a café that employs individuals with IDDs spread through the community, then the nation and eventually ended up on the Rachael Ray Show. Already, the Wrights have had to move to a bigger, 5000 square facility in another part of town. Most importantly, a business model has been established.

Amy Wright’s shower vision is strong and continues to expand. She already sees franchises. Surely, communities across the nation see not only the opportunity for young people with IDDs to find hope in hard work but for customers to find hope in gathering around a beautiful thought….and coffee.

Entrepreneurs who want this inspiration in their lives will have some choices to make. They will have the option of operating the franchise as a for-profit business or non-profit. The Wrights are still at the helm and justifiably very protective of their brainchild, so the process will be highly selective for anyone who wants to open a franchise. Expect to be scrutinized, not so much for your ability to turn a profit, but for how you follow your social conscience and how profit will follow in turn.

If you wish to simply support the quest to generate employment opportunities for individuals with IDDs, you can donate here. If you have any questions for the Wrights or the staff at Bitty & Beau’s, you can contact them here. To learn how we, as care managers, have been able to help individuals with IDDs, read about one of our cases, here.

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