Karin York has done just about everything when it comes to helping individuals with disabilities.
That is, except have her own coffee shop employed by them. But she’s well on her way.
Ms. York is nearing the opening Spencer’s Place, a coffee shop and bistro tailored to employing individuals with cognitive and learning disabilities. She expects it to open by the summer in the Marley Park area of Surprise.
“My hope is not only to train and prepare — I call them kids but they’re all adults now — maybe they can carry those skills into other places of employment,” Ms. York told the Daily News-Sun Feb. 5. “It might be a starting point. And then they can go into other businesses or places where they have an affinity and desire, and they can transfer those skills.
“I want it to be a transition program but also I want it to be a safe haven that they can look forward to every morning.”
Part of her ideal situation for the shop is to have job coaches helping employees on hosting, maintenance, socially acceptable traits like eye contact, and food and beverage prep. She hopes to have around 20 employees rotating throughout three or four-hour shifts.
“I have so many positive responses that I have no fear of it succeeding at all.”
Who is Spencer?
Spencer Nickell is a 28-year-old man who was born with Down syndrome.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease control, Down syndrome is a condition in which an infant while in the womb develops an extra (47th) chromosome, which affects how the baby’s body and brain develop, and can cause both mental and physical challenges in life.
About 6,000 babies are born each year with Down syndrome, the CDC reports.
But that is only one facet of Spencer’s life. Currently part of a work program at Advanced Independence, he strives to be a pastor, get married and have children.
His mother describes him as being near self-sufficient, always ready in the morning, with a strong work ethic.
“He has a purpose and he feel very fulfilled,” Ms. York said. “He is the life of the party. He’s so fun. He’s contagious. Everyone wants to be around him. He’s like a little celebrity when he walks in the room. He’s just a joy and a light.”
“He’s one of the boys,” Karin’s husband Chris York said. “He just wants to be included.”
His involvement with Advance Independence, which provides quality care and support for disabled individuals and their families in Maricopa County, allows him and others to spend the day working at places such as a retirement home or a consignment shop. AI’s goal is to empower individuals with disabilities and their families, and enable their children to learn, grow, and become independent.
Starting from scratch
Karin York works in special education, and teaches and coaches at Valley Vista High School in Surprise.
She was 20 when she had Spencer. Through the years, she has helped create a transition program at Valley Vista for students with disabilities, a way to get their footing in the real world with employment opportunities.
“When they graduate there’s great programs available, but you have to qualify through the department of developmental disabilities,” she said. However, not everyone gets through, leaving some yearning adults at home. “That became challenging when the market tanked in 2008. The criteria changed. Many of my high-functioning kids did not qualify. Once they graduated, they had to go into the world and find their own jobs. That was not even plausible.”
Now, Ms. York is hoping Spencer’s Place can be the starting point for her former students and others who apply.
Recently, Bitty & Beau’s Coffee opened in Wilmington, North Carolina, a similar concept to what Ms. York has in mind. She and her husband visited the venue in 2018 and were impressed. A woman opened the shop in honor of her two children with Down syndrome.
“It was overwhelming to see what I had put on paper 12 years ago somebody had done in a very short amount of time,” Ms. York said. “She’s had a lot of financial backing and partnerships. I think that Spencer’s Place would be funded and so easy for people to catch the fire and want to help fund but it’s been harder than anticipated.”
However, the city of Surprise fully supports Ms. York in her endeavor. She is targeting an opening date in July, with some soft openings as early as April for friends and family while future employees train and develop skills before the “Open” sign lights up.
A day after the Daily News-Sun met with Ms. York, more good news came for individuals with cognitive and learning disabilities.
On Wednesday, Feb. 6, Wilmington, Delaware-based The Precisionists started the Phoenix Precision Project in partnership with charter members such as the state of Arizona, the Salt River Project, and Mini Mobile.
The program is expected to create 500 jobs for people with autism and other special abilities in Arizona over the next three to five years, with a goal of 1,000 by 2025.
CEO Ernie Dianastasis said an Innovation and Technology Center is expected to be built in the Valley within the next six months. An exact location is still in the site selection phase.
“It’s extremely exciting,” Mr. Dianastasis said about the project. “It’s a complex undertaking and it takes a lot of work by everyone to set up the environment for success for people with disabilities. Now we’re starting to see the benefits.”
According to a release, participants in the program are assessed, trained and employed by The Precisionists and carry out project-based work, including software development, software testing, database analytics, cybersecurity, back-office accounting, data entry and auditing reports. Some tasks will be performed on-site at charter member companies’ locations while others will be at the ITC.
While the project is mainly focused on larger companies, Mr. Dianastasis said The Precisionists is very open to developing opportunities for smaller businesses to take part.
Small businesses can go to theprecisionists.com and register a statement of interest.
Grand Opening nears
On Feb. 5, the Yorks were preparing to pick up the keys to the building. They have their business license; contractors and architects are on standby; and they anxiously wait for approval of a non-profit grant.
“I’m taking this big leap of faith to start this because the need is so great,” Ms. York said. “I want something where people can go and feel welcomed and accepted. The Marley park community is ecstatic about having something walking distance.”
July can’t get here soon enough.
A GoFundMe for Spencer’s Place is available at www.bit.ly/spencersplace.
“I’ve been blessed with several nominations and awards, but my heart and my passion are these kids who have had so many challenges,” she said. “They just want to be… they’re invisible. A lot of them are invisible. And they want to be relevant.”
This story appeared in the Daily News-Sun. Contact reporter Chris Caraveo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-876-2531.