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ShareVision Blog

Conversations on technology for community service providers

Coffee shops give sense of purpose – more than a morning eye opener


I recently went out for dinner with a friend who told me about an exciting new project that he was a part of. Among other things, my friend and I share a common goal of purposeful community. The project he is involved in will provide supportive housing, as well as community amenity spaces including a gym, a coffee shop, and non-profit offices. Exciting stuff. 

He went on to tell me the hope is to have those housed at the intended community work at and run the coffee shop in the building. That caught my attention. I’ve been thinking a lot about social enterprise these days and, while my friend is working with people in recovery from addictions, it reminded me of the new Ontario coffee shop I recently posted about whose goal is to have “adults with developmental disabilities to call the shots and create their own workplace community.” 

Community. We all need that – from persons recovering from addictions, to those afflicted by mental health issues, to those marginalized by their different abilities. Intentionally inclusive workplaces are – excuse the pun – ‘my cup of tea’.

In the case of the Coffee Shed in Toronto , workers are adults with developmental disabilities who, with the help of Common Ground Co-operative , can “use their skills and talents to create employment for themselves.” They go on to say that, “after training and apprenticing, staff members can get voted in as a ‘partner’. They draw an income and run the place as a business partnership.” 

And there are more businesses utilizing this business model as well. Take the story of Joe’s Table, a cafe in Burnaby, BC, which now boasts three locations. Started “as a father’s dream for his son, Joe, to experience the joy and self-esteem that comes from having a meaningful job, doing something he loved that others value.” 

Joe’s dad had been employing his son behind the scenes because he had autism. However, his dad recognized Joe really had a talent for engaging people by greeting them. And that was the key.

Joe’s dad Peter opened the cafe in 2013, and employed his son Joe who worked there happily and productively until his passing. As Joe’s legacy, the cafe continues to employ persons with differing abilities, people who want to contribute. It ensures they are active and appreciated members of the community. The cafe also houses and operates an art gallery

There are many individuals and organizations that work towards inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Community is at the heart of their mission. Truly inclusive communities call for individuals from all backgrounds and abilities to be embraced and empowered. And what a great way to:

• give someone a sense of purpose and belonging; 
• have people with differing abilities earn money;
• develop and utilize their personal and professional skills; and
• strengthen the development of the business.     

That’s social enterprise at work. And that is a good thing, especially for those of us who are, know, work with, and care about people with developmental disabilities. 

Coffee shops. Who knew my daily cuppa joe could be such a great way to create opportunities to foster community building. And, as the baristas at the Coffee Shed like to say, “Coffee Solves Everything.” I’ll drink to that.


If you are an employer, or know someone with diverse abilities who is looking to enter the workforce, check out:

• Common Ground Co-operative 
• posAbilities Employment Service
• Employment of People with Developmental Disabilities in Canada: 6 Key Elements for an Inclusive Labour Market

Topics: non-profit sharing economy ShareVision developmental disabilities employability employment inclusion workplace community diversity workforce art gallery autism