This guest post is by Bethany Hacker, Operations Coordinator at Dirt Coffee Bar.  Bethany is applying for our Supporting Small Businesses That Hire People With Disabilities Grant Opportunity ran by my nonprofit KFM Making A Difference. You can learn more about the grant opportunity here.

I hope you can support my nonprofit like I’m trying to support our community. I also produce educational videos to celebrate neurodiversity by spotlighting individuals impacted by a diagnosis. Learn more on how you can help our cause with a small donation (just asking for $3 today, equal to your daily cup of coffee) here.

Dirt is a nonprofit coffee shop with a mission to train, employ and empower individuals with neurodiversities while equipping our community to do the same. The Founder of Dirt, Lauren Burgess, founded an organization called Garden, Inc. in 2010 with a mission to cultivate inclusive opportunities for those with autism and neurodiversities to share, learn, grow and shine in this world just as they are. Garden’s first participants started young and eventually grew into young adults who began looking for employment opportunities. After their participants went to many job interviews without any success in finding employment, Lauren decided she was would find a way to hire them herself. This is where the idea for Dirt all began. In 2013, Lauren attended the Greater Good Academy in Denver, CO and developed an award- winning triple bottom line business plan for a social enterprise with a mission to train and employ adults with autism.

Dirt raised enough money to purchase a mobile coffee truck that hit the road in 2013, training and employing 26 individuals with neurodiversities. By 2018, Dirt and the community had worked to raise enough money to open its first brick and mortar coffee shop.

Dirt’s primary mission and focus is to partner with individuals with neurodiversities and assist in the cultivation of skills necessary for them to achieve and maintain an empowered quality of life to include integrated and competitive employment in their area of interest, social emotional health and independent living. Dirt has developed a curriculum designed to cultivate skills necessary to achieve and maintain an empowered quality of life. What makes Dirt different is that our team of neurodiverse interns have the opportunity to work in an integrated setting while partnering with an experienced job coach to develop individualized skills that will allow them to attain future integrated and competitive employment in their field of interest, while encompassing all areas of development to include social, emotional and behavioral health. Dirt is able to have an immense impact as participant programming is individualized so they have the opportunity to one day have their dream job in the area of their choosing. Once participants move on to their choice of permanent employment with the assistance of a job coach, Dirt is able to serve even more individuals in need of training. Since 2013, Dirt has been able to train, employ and empower nearly 100 individuals with neurodiversities.

One of our favorite success stories comes from our former intern, Andy. Andy originally came to Dirt with a desire to work on vocational skills and gain more work experience. Through his programming, Andy’s social skills expanded greatly, but more importantly he began initiating small talk and became comfortable in his role around customers. All of his hard work paid off when he was offered a position with the shoe store DSW, who happens to be a great partner of Dirt’s. Andy has been at his job for over a year now, where he has been set up for success with an inclusive and welcoming team, job support, and a positive work environment where he can continue to grow. Here is Andy’s story in his own words:

“Dirt helps people like me get job experience and helps us find employment after we graduate from their internship program. Before my experience at Dirt, I had been out of work for over a year and many of my skills, such as understanding social cues, were rusty. While at Dirt I was able to regain confidence and the skills needed to find employment after graduation. Now I feel like I’m no longer left out of society. Dirt gave me the skills I needed to get a part time job at DSW where I work in the warehouse.” Andy, Dirt Intern

Employment is an important part of life and means more than just getting a paycheck every week. Everyone, including individuals with disabilities, want and deserve to have a sense of independence, self-worth and purpose. Employment has been proven to lead to happier and healthier lives, the development of new skills, and can change someone’s life experience of isolation to one of community.

Beyond the benefits of employment to individuals with disabilities, there are benefits to the employer, co-workers and greater community. One of Dirt’s slogans is “changing minds and changing lives.” When the community can see an individual with a disability working and feeling empowered, their perception and expectations of that person and people, in general, living with a disability changes. Our hope is that our customers begin to see people for their strengths and all that they can bring to the table.

For employers, hiring a diverse and inclusive workforce is just good business. Plain and simple. When an employer hires individuals of diverse backgrounds and abilities, that employer is able to learn from their team to tap into communities they might not have any prior knowledge of, giving them the ability to better tailor their products and services to reach a broader audience. People with disabilities have high work ethic and retention rates, they tend to look at solving problems in creative ways and being open to hiring individuals with differences increases an employer’s hiring pool.

Having a month dedicated to disability employment awareness is valuable in bringing visibility to the issues surrounding disability employment while also celebrating all of the contributions individuals with disabilities have made and focusing on the value of an inclusive workforce. While strides continue to be made for more inclusive employment opportunities, 90% of individuals with neurodiversities are still either unemployed or underemployed. If just 10% of small businesses across the United States hired one individual with neurodiversities, there would be no unemployment. There is a lot of work still to be done, but we are incredibly hopeful for the future of disability employment!

Please follow them on Facebook & Instagram if you can!

Follow my journey on Facebook, my Facebook Fan Page, & Instagram!

Kerry Magro, a professional speaker and best-selling author who is also on the autism spectrum started the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference in 2011 to help students with autism receive scholarship aid to pursue a post-secondary education. 

Have Kerry, one of the only professionally accredited speakers on the spectrum in the country, speak at your next event by sending him an inquiry here. If you have a referral for someone who many want him to speak please reach out as well! Kerry speaks with schools, businesses, government agencies, colleges, nonprofit organizations, parent groups and other special events on topics ranging from employment, how to succeed in college with a learning disability, internal communication, living with autism, bullying prevention, social media best practices, innovation, presentation best practices and much more!