MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 3rd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
Our next story just might cause you to appreciate your job a little more. God designed us for productive activity, and work isn’t just a way to provide for our needs. It’s also a way to bless others.
People with disabilities have that innate desire to work, too. But some 70 percent of Americans who have intellectual or developmental disabilities are shut out of the workforce.
REICHARD: WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson visited a coffee shop that’s committed to changing that. And guess what? Business is booming.
AUDIO: I’ll get a 12-ounce cappuccino. Of, course. Any flavor? Uh, no thank you. Then also a cinnamon roll, please. Okay.
KIM HENDERSON, REPORTER: The walls at Bitty and Beau’s Coffee in Wilmington, North Carolina, tell a story. There’s a chalkboard menu listing the day’s offerings—things like toasted marshmallow flavoring and java chip frappes. The “Wall of Thanks” names individual and corporate sponsors.
On the back wall, photos of smiling employees hang near this quote: “Changing the way people see each other.”
That in a nutshell is the mission of Bitty and Beau’s. Ben and Amy Wright founded it in 2016 and named it after their two youngest children, both born with Down syndrome. It’s an enterprise that’s all about brewing up opportunity.
AUDIO: For people with Down syndrome and disabilities that the world don’t give a chance, they give these kids a chance.
The shop was once a Hummer dealership. But now it’s famous as Bitty and Beau’s. After the Wrights appeared on The Today Show, Rachael Ray, and Good Morning America, crowds have poured in.
AUDIO: Yesterday was my birthday, and this is all I wanted to do was come to Bitty and Beau’s coffee shop. And I don’t drink coffee at all, but this is what I wanted for my birthday. My uncle was Down syndrome and I’ve just got a [choked with emotion] special relation…
The shop’s Wilmington location employs 40 workers. Twenty-eight year old Matt Dean is one of them.
AUDIO: I work here at Bitty and Beau’s, and I am known as director of first impression here. I love the great environment that the coffee shop has here. I help out with the change and make sure all the customers are doing good and making sure they have an awesome experience.
Matt is a customer favorite.
AUDIO: I had the Matt’s special called Matt’s Sunrise, and it is mango and strawberry smoothie, and it was amazing…
Matt’s mom says he used to be shy, but not anymore.
AUDIO: It’s been life-changing for Matt. It’s so important for young adults with disabilities to have a purpose to get up every day like we all want to do. And go and do a job. He is just great at his job.
Jill is also great at her job. She is working behind the counter. It’s her job to place a fresh receipt in a clear plastic folder, which already holds a red, nine-of-hearts playing card.
AUDIO: Jill, you call the cards, right? Yeah? Yeah. She’s got ‘em under control. Seven of hearts, queen of diamonds. Oh, we’ve got the nine of hearts right here.
She calls out the cards that match an order with the right customer.
AUDIO: Nine of hearts? Perfect. Thank you, Miss Jill. Have a nice day. All right.
Recent college graduate Natalie Smith has served as a manager at Bitty and Beau’s for more than a year.
AUDIO: Basically, the role of our managers is just to empower the employees as much as possible. So, I mean, when these guys get rolling, it’s my job to just keep the parts moving. But these guys keep things trucking out way better than I could do on my own for sure.
The line of Saturday afternoon customers snakes toward the door, but no one seems to be worried about the wait.
AUDIO: I’ve not seen anyone get impatient and leave. You’re here for the atmosphere—the experience—as well as prime product.
Bitty and Beau’s has become a destination for families raising special needs kids. One young girl in line has a facial deformity. Another, 12-year-old Dalton, comes once a week.
AUDIO: Is this your club like? You like this? This is like a club to you? Yeah.
Dalton is eager to fill out a Bitty and Beau’s job application.
AUDIO: They said he has to wait three years before he will have a job here.
That kind of labor force excitement is obvious to coffee buyers.
AUDIO: They love their job. They do. They love their job, and that just makes it more special. These kids take time to show that they appreciate the opportunity they’ve been given. They value it. They love their job. I don’t think it’s a job to them.
Back at the counter, I asked Jill what she likes about her work.
AUDIO: I like pouring coffee and — Like pouring coffee and calling orders? Yeah. And your sister works here too, right? Yeah. Her sister Sherry, they both work here.
I also met Jessie, who spends most of her time behind a touch-pad register.
AUDIO: My main position here is cashier and really doing my best to make everyone smile.
I watched Jessie arrive for work. Her mom drove their Nissan up to the front door and Jessie, with curved legs and an altered gait, stepped out.
AUDIO: So cerebral palsy is tightness of the muscles. Mine is from head to toe. So basically I feel it all over my body. So it affects my brain more than people think.
Bitty and Beau’s Coffee is teaching the public to value people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And the public is responding. In 2017, CNN honored Amy Wright as “Hero of the Year” for her work on behalf of the disabled. Ben Wright recently spoke before members of the U.S. Senate about hiring disabled employees.
But the shop is also helping employees like Jessie see their own value.
AUDIO: It took me a while to understand the mindset of my having the disability as a gift. Nothing is impossible with God. I can do anything I put my mind to as long as I keep my faith and I walk by faith and not by sight. It’s just something that I’m learning. So, yeah…
For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson reporting from Wilmington, North Carolina.