Dirty coffee on South Rapp Street in Littleton is in a one-story brick house with a welcome sign up front and plenty of places to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee. WiFi, if you need it, is a smart conversation starter, educating customers that 90% of people with autism remain underemployed or unemployed. Dirt Coffee works daily to change this statistic.
According to Autism talks and based on CDC reports in 2020, about one in 54 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. While autism is no longer seen as a singular diagnosis but rather as a wide range of behaviors and / or disabilities (fortunately becoming more widely accepted and even celebrated every day), the stigma surrounding autism is growing. difficult to eliminate, much like craving for caffeine.
About 8-10 years ago, the concept of what would become Dirt Coffee was born. “[Founder Lauren Burgess] was working with a day program for people with autism. There was a lot of professional coaching, but she noticed that people weren’t placed in jobs afterwards, ”said new executive director of Dirt Coffee, Catharina Hughey. “She had this idea: ‘Why don’t we create jobs that provide space for people with autism?’ Burgess then launched a popular crowdfunding campaign to secure a physical location for Dirt Coffee. But this space did not arrive as quickly as expected.
Instead, Dirt Coffee arrived (literally) as a repurposed vehicle, taking Dirt’s mission on the road. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise because they ended up with the truck,” Hughey said, referring to the converted van with two large service windows and the Dirt logo affixed to the side. “The truck is this great idea that you can do advocacy and education on the road and also offer a job at the same time. As Burgess and his team roamed the greater Denver area to serve coffee and educate consumers, the number of Dirt fans really grew.
Dirt Coffee’s mission isn’t just to offer some autism-related stats while you sip your coffee (although the staff happily do so); there is much bigger work going on behind the scenes. Dirt staff are constantly educating their clients about autism, how it affects communities, and how the world generally needs to do better to welcome people with autism. But within the walls of the cafe, the team is also walking, relying on an employment system designed to successfully hire, train and support people with neurodiversion.
One of the stepping stones in this employment program focuses on the traditional hiring process, especially the parts that don’t work for everyone. “In the post-pandemic era, we keep hearing that there is a labor shortage,” Hughey said. “But I think that’s a catalyst for asking, ‘How do we hire? How many under-represented people have been marginalized and ignored using the traditional method of hiring that we have? ‘ Hughey pointed out that simple things, such as maintaining eye contact and other body languages, can be difficult or uncomfortable for people with neurodiversion. “But that doesn’t take away from the unique and valuable skills they bring.”
In addition to deciphering traditional hiring methods, Dirt offers a comprehensive internship program for neurodivergent youth, which consists of quarterly cohorts that teach interns various aspects of the job. During the first month, interns work with professional coaches and focus on soft skills like punctuality, scoring and decoding what the word “professionalism” really means to employers. For the second month, trainees jump behind the bar to begin barista training, from the back of the house to the front and all the necessary positions in between. In the third month, interns officially take up their duties and working hours, working alongside baristas who are also professional coaches. Once the internship is officially completed, interns can choose to stay and work one-on-one with Dirt’s coaches to meet their individual goals and find employment. “Professional skills need to be applicable to other places,” Hughey said. “Overall, the heart of our lessons and skill building is that you should be able to take what you’ve learned here and use it elsewhere.”
Another important aspect of Dirt’s mission is to consult with other companies on how they can also be more inclusive of the neurodivergent community. “It’s really important that what we’re doing here has an additional impact, not only in bringing in interns and giving them the opportunity to earn a living while taking training, but also that we want to model for other companies out there. what it looks like. have an intentional hire, ”Hughey explained, noting how companies can make simple but impactful changes to dismantle“ the systems that embed oppression ”.
Hughey noted that for many companies, it’s not about why they don’t intentionally change how their processes work, but rather not realizing that there is a problem in the first place. “It’s more that people haven’t been exposed to or been invited to. But then the next question might be, “How are we going to do this?” “How can we change our hiring practices? “
Dirt works with companies to assess their current practices and then make recommendations based on how they can improve. It might sound like simple language changes or bringing in speakers and coaches to work more in-depth with the company. “Another level is where I go to talk to stakeholders about the bottom line for businesses that this practice works and that it works well. And it’s not something you have to spend a ton of money on, it’s really just changing simple things. When you have this amazing person walking through the door, you give them a second glance, even if they don’t fit in the box that we created in our world, ”Hughey said.
Overall, Dirt Coffee does a lot and does it well. Additionally, a second location is currently in the works, expanding the café’s reach across the city. “We think we’re in a place where we can meet more people where they are. Much of our population may come from very different socio-economic backgrounds – those who may need more of our support will not always be readily available to see it through. [to Littleton]. “
Regardless of where the second location lands, it is sure to have a major impact just like the first, benefiting Denver’s neurodivergent community and opening the eyes of companies that can do more to support it. “There is sustainability, hiring and business modeling, and there are changes in the lives of people who come here and do that, and then find jobs and feel more confident,” Hughey says. “People want to show up and be included. “
Dirt Coffee is located at 5767 S Rapp St in Littleton and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, including the location and events of the Dirt Coffee Truck, please call 303-635-6674 or visit website.