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I opened a Café to employ my daughter and others with special needs

This blog post is by Lorna Heid, owner of Independent Grounds Café in Kennesaw, Georgia. 

Last fall a friend of mine mentioned that they were considering purchasing a casual dining franchise so their special needs daughter would always have a place to work. This passing comment was a lightbulb moment for me as I’d never considered that possibility.

I’ve always thought my daughter, Emma, 17, would work at a daycare one day as she adores little children (and little children flock to her!) But I knew that it would take the right daycare to take her on as an assistant while also understanding her limitations. There would likely be some liability involved and parents would need to be informed.

Emma has a traumatic brain injury secondary to meningitis that she caught at birth. She has global developmental delays including cognitive and learning issues. She is rarely without a smile on her face but meeting strangers is difficult for her. As the parent of a special needs child, you are constantly having to adjust your expectations. Each stage of their life brings a new challenge, a new potential tempering of expectations.

Around the same time that I had the conversation with my friend, I was seeing these viral videos being shared around Facebook highlighting businesses that hire adults with various special needs. One, in particular, a video about Bitty & Beau’s coffee shop in Wilmington, NC, caught my attention. A coffee shop seemed an ideal business especially given the fact that my daughter worked in her school’s coffee shop every morning either making or delivering drinks all over the school.

So I sat about the task of figuring out how to make this idea into a reality. I studied “how to open a coffee shop posts” on Google. I started looking at commercial properties. I looked at the various (expensive) espresso machine options that would be easier for my employees to operate than traditional models. I formed an LLC and took the leap.

My vision was to open a neighborhood, independent coffee shop that primarily employed adults with special needs. I knew that young women my daughter did Special Olympics gymnastics with would make great employees. I knew other moms with sons who were autistic that would love to get behind an iPad to take orders. I contacted area high school transition academies and spread the word. And then I took to social media to promote my dream.

Three weeks in, we’re a bustling neighborhood café with 14 employees, 4 without special needs and 10 with various issues of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. The local community is embracing us. And the smiles on my employee’s faces is contagious. I couldn’t be happier of the example we’re providing for the Special Needs Community and beyond. 

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.