Organization raising money for coffee shop designed to employ students with autism

- A new idea is brewing to create a coffee shop in D.C. where you can get your cup o’ joe while local teenagers with intellectual disabilities can get on-the-job training.

Organizers say although one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, as of last year only, 16.8 percent of adult individuals with disabilities were gainfully employed.

Laura Pickard is hoping to change that with a crowdfunding campaign aimed at improving the chances for people in the D.C. area with developmental disabilities to get a job.

The principal at a local special education school is looking to raise $95,000 that she will match with grants to open a fully operational coffee shop in D.C. The Independent Grounds Coffee House will serve lattes, cappuccinos and more through a vocational work-study program for teenagers with intellectual disabilities.

"There is a huge need,” Pickard said. “We've had a lot of people reach out.”

As part of her research, Pickard visited Cameron's Coffee and Chocolates in Fairfax where their motto is, “We don't hire people to make chocolates, we make chocolates to hire people.”

Owner Ellen Graham said there are no other businesses like theirs in the northern Virginia area. She and her husband, Jim, sensed a need two years ago and opened their shop so their daughter, Cameron, and others with intellectual disabilities could have a place to work.

"I think we are good for the community and the community is good for us," Graham said.

Twelve employees with intellectual disabilities along with parallel workers and job coaches now create scrumptious chocolates and delicious coffee drinks every day. And the Grahams say if their model inspires others, that would be sweet.

"Isn't that what all the rest of us are able to do -- follow our dreams?" said Graham. "Why shouldn't people with intellectual disabilities do it too? So when Laura calls up, that is my dream."

Pickard said her dream is starting to take shape now too. She has raised $10,000 towards her goal and needs a location, but believes if they have done it at Cameron's, she can too.

"It feels good to be in there and see how amazing the employees are and how they are contributing," she said with a smile. "It's changing people’s lives."


Cameron's Coffee & Chocolates:

Independent Grounds Coffee House gofundme page:

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