GREENSBORO, N.C. — Most adults with intellectual disabilities are unemployed, and advocates for the special needs community say that is unacceptable. Now there is a movement in Guilford County to open a business that will employ this population which is often overlooked.
Jo and Dave Hughes have spent 18 years fighting for their daughter, Maddie. “Maddie’s whole life has been ‘you’re unique, you don’t fit anywhere,’” said Jo, Maddie’s mom. “And we’ve been having to piecemeal her into making her own way.”
Doctors diagnosed Maddie with Sotos syndrome as a child, a rare genetic disorder that causes intellectual disabilities and developmental delays.
“The thing that’s often so bleak for special needs families is ‘what’s next?’ Once you’re out of the cocoon of high school, now what?” Jo said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 80 percent of adults with developmental disabilities are unemployed. But that doesn’t mean they’re not qualified.
“Every person—I don’t care your disability or your age—feels better about who you are and your sense of worth, when you can do something productive with your day,” said Jo.
The Hughes family is part of an effort to open a coffee shop in Greensboro called “A Special Blend,” where, starting next year, about twenty adults with intellectual disabilities, like Maddie, would work.
“Most employers want to train their employees and then keep them,” Dave said. “We’re okay if they get hired somewhere else because that means we get to hire someone else to work at A Special Blend, train them, and hopefully people will see them in the community and say ‘hey, we’ve got a spot for someone like that.’”
A Special Blend is a 501c3, hoping to raise $300,000 for start-up costs through fundraisers and online donations. The goal is that A Special Blend will be self-sustaining within a few months of opening early next year.
Like traditional coffee shops, customers will be able to buy coffee and baked goods at A Special Blend, but it’s something that can’t be purchased that will keep likely them coming back.
“Our work population.” Said Dave. “They’re going to be some of the happiest people around,” added Jo. “And they’re going to love being there, which will make you love being there.
The Hughes say it’s more than a coffee shop, but rather an effort to unify the entire community one cup of coffee at a time.
“There is an absolute win-win in this,” said Jo. “No one loses when you benefit everybody and you can share and support this kind of project.
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