A teacher who has a 12-year-old son with Down syndrome is gearing up to start a nonprofit café in Ada she hopes will provide jobs and a sense of belonging for individuals with disabilities.
Jennifer Cole, a teacher at Lowell Middle School and mom of three kids — including Brody, for whom the project is named — last fall began planning Brody’s Be Café, which she envisions will be a place for patrons and staff to “be kind, belong, believe” and more.
Cole currently is raising funds for the project on GoFundMe and has met $20,552 of her $25,000 goal as of June 24. The end date of the campaign is July 1.
If the fundraising goal is met and Cole can secure the location she has scouted in Ada, she hopes to open Brody’s Be Café in late 2019 or in 2020.
She is in the process of registering the enterprise with the state of Michigan as a 501(c)3 nonprofit and is applying for grants.
Madcap Coffee has agreed to be the coffee supplier, and Gordon Food Service also will be a supplier. Additionally, Cole is in talks to bring in goods from a local baker and an artisan business that supports individuals with disabilities.
Brody’s will employ teens and adults with special needs, who will be paired with peer coaches who do not have disabilities for training and support.
“The work hours will vary depending on the ability of the individual. Some kids might be able to work an hour; others might be doing four,” Cole said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate in 2018 was 19.1% among those with a disability, compared to 65.9% for those with no disability.
“As a parent of a child with a disability, you kind of wonder, what’s their future going to be? What are they going to do as a job?” Cole said.
“I just thought, I really feel like the community of Ada would love this and would support it 100%. It was just that, and I love the idea of putting individuals with special needs working together with those who do not.”
Cole will serve as president of the venture while continuing to work full time as a teacher. She has appointed a board of directors that includes community members Jane Weatherford, Tabitha Goldsmith, Tammy Fitzpatrick, Deanna Cowden and Allie Cowden.
Allie Cowden also has Down syndrome and is 26, the age in Michigan that those with developmental disabilities and cognitive impairment can no longer receive public education.
Over the past few years, a number of Michigan advocates have started nonprofit ventures that employ and support those with disabilities, including Zoe Bruyn, founder of Stir It Up Bakery in Grand Rapids; Leslie Hooker and Suzanne Wilcox, founders of Beer City Dog Biscuits in Grand Rapids; Kelly Rockwell, co-founder of Mi Work Matters’ work initiative Anastasia and Katie’s Coffee Shop & Café in Livonia; and After 26 Depot in Cadillac.
Cole said she wants to be part of that trend of inclusivity.
“We aren’t as different as our society often portrays us to be,” she said. “This type of café would offer an opportunity to bring individuals together in one common place and realize that we are more alike than not.”
If Brody’s Be Café for some reason does not launch, Cole said she will donate the funds raised to the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan.
More information on the project, including a link to donate to the campaign, is available at brodysbecafe.com.
This article first appeared in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, a sister publication of GRMag.com.
Photo via brodysbecafe.com