WEST ALLIS, Wis. — A new coffee shop in Wisconsin is on a mission to employ as many people with disabilities as possible to give them job training and normalize those who have differences.
Kindly Coffee employs three people with mental disabilities and has three other employees that act as peer mentors. Plus, there are three other people with disabilities who didn't want to be employees, but instead are volunteering at the coffee shop.
"There’s not enough opportunities. There's not enough people that want to employ people with disabilities, and I don’t think that’s okay, because I think people with disabilities can do just as much, or even more as people without disabilities, especially in the workplace," Sydney Tucker, the co-founder and CEO of Kindly Coffee said.
She was inspired to open the coffee shop after her own experiences with her sister Emma. Tucker said that her sister died when she was 16, but cognitively she was about 4 years old. Tucker believes that all people should have the chance to work and gain job experience regardless of their abilities.
"But I don’t want to ignore the fact that they have disabilities. When people say I don’t see color or I don’t see disability, well, why not? Because people have disabilities. People have differences, and if you’re going to ignore it, you’re kind of just ignoring a big part of who they are as a person," Tucker said.
It's all about normalizing people with differences.
For 25-year-old Kacey Briggs, she was just excited to start her first job. She has a mental disability and having this opportunity meant a lot to her.
"I was so happy," she said.
Plus, her family was proud for what she had accomplished.
"(My sister) say she was so proud of me, and I gave her some drinks," Briggs said.
She gets individualized training from Tucker, as well as her teenage peers who don't have disabilities. It's a way for both peers and mentors to learn something new.
"Getting to meet them. Getting to talk to them. It's like I don’t see a lot of people with disabilities, so it's like you get a different experience working with them, and seeing them, and talking to them, and it's actually really nice. They’re just like us," 16-year-old Corey Smith said.
Kindly Coffee is a small step in the right direction, Tucker said. Her ultimate goal is that hotels, restaurants, and other businesses follow the same model.
"I figured I can’t change the whole world, but I can take this little part of my world, and change just this part, and hopefully we can just expand and do better," she said.
She's not the first person to open a cafe like this or employ people with disabilities with a similar goal. However, it's not about being first. It's about contributing to change.
"Kindly Coffee is not the only place that can do this. There are other coffee shops that are doing this. You don’t have to be a coffee shop either."
On top of the cafe's mission to employ people with disabilities, Tucker is also hoping to spread a religious message too.
Kindly Coffee is also a Christian cafe. For Tucker, that means putting bible verses on the wall, having bibles for people to read in the cafe, and also having children's books about Jesus. But she doesn't want to overwhelm people with religion either.
"But it's not going to be like, 'Oh do you know Jesus?' Because that's weird, and that's not getting anyone anywhere."
It's more so about exposing people to other ideas. Just like she wants to get people more familiar and comfortable to those with disabilities.
This story was first reported by James Groh at TMJ4 in Milwaukee, Wis.