Denver’s new DIRT Coffee is on a mission to support IDD employees

When customers patronize a new cafe in East Denver, their money not only supports the nonprofit organization that runs it, but also training programs that help locals with intellectual and developmental disabilities learn valuable workplace skills. of work.

DIRT Coffee, which aims to bring people with disabilities into the workforce, started as a mobile truck before opening its first brick-and-mortar store in downtown Littleton in 2018. On Thursday, it opened its second store at the Mosaic Community Campus (1785 Quebec St., Building 8, Denver), where Executive Director Catharina Hughey hopes to spread the mantra that each person’s uniqueness is an asset.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 31.4% of adults with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 64 are currently employed. This compares to 72.5% of adults of the same age without disabilities. (The BLS considers people who are not in the labor force and not actively seeking employment.)

“I believe we don’t live with a single problem in our lives, and I’ve been very fortunate in my nonprofit work to work in child welfare, with immigrants and refugees. in Aurora, and also doing research with homeless people and now I find myself in the disability community,” said Hughey, who joined DIRT Coffee in 2021. “I really feel like the intersectionality is key to how we present ourselves and move these issues forward.

DIRT stands for “Divergent, Inclusive, Representing, Transforming” – four words central to the organization’s mission. According to the National Center for Disability Journalism, “neurodiversity” refers to brains that function differently, which Hughey and other advocates say should be celebrated.

About 50% of DIRT Coffee’s staff are neurodivergent, Hughey said. Additionally, the store offers an internship program that aims to empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as autism, Down syndrome, Tourette syndrome, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and mood disorders, with individual coaching. Interns not only gain work experience in the cafe, but also transferable skills they can use in jobs down the road, Hughey said.

Catharina Hughey is Executive Director of DIRT Coffee, which seeks to help more people with intellectual and developmental disabilities enter the workforce through internships and career coaching. (Courtesy of DIRT Coffee)

Through its Inclusive Workforce Employer program, the organization also seeks to educate employers on hiring, promoting and retaining members of the disability community and removing barriers to entry into the workforce. work.

“Getting the neurodivergent population into the jobs that provide them with purpose and meaning is our end goal,” Hughey said. “We would like there to be no barriers to this and we can’t wait for employers and employees to know how to navigate the system to make it a success.”

According to Hughey, the internship, called the Inclusive Employment Program, had a 92% graduation rate in 2021 and saw 60% of its Employment Development participants placed into integrated employment.

With the new Denver site, she hopes to continue to develop these initiatives.

“When we were looking for a second location, there was an intention behind it – we want to make sure we bring our work to communities that have been underserved or underrepresented in the past,” she said. “Having the opportunity to be at the Mosaic Community Campus, which is a campus for working, learning and living, I thought to myself, ‘This is so perfect. ”

While other locations may be developed in the future, DIRT Coffee is looking to maintain its mission first and run a business second, Hughey said. So any other expansion plan requires synergy like the one the organization found in Denver, she added.

Subscribe to our new food newsletter, Stuffed, to get Denver food and drink news delivered straight to your inbox.

Comments are closed.