Simply Brew provides jobs, coaching to individuals with disabilities

SILVERTON, Ohio – The Just Brew Coffee House serves a variety of hot drinks and pastries, but the main thing it offers isn’t on the menu.

The new coffee shop in Silverton, Ohio provides professional training and employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.

What you need to know

  • The Just Brew Coffee House staff consists primarily of people with developmental disabilities.
  • The shop is operated by the Ken Anderson Alliance, which aims to offer work and social opportunities to people with conditions such as autism and Down syndrome.
  • The organization was founded by Bengal legend Ken Anderson.
  • There are plans for an accessible, inclusive community in Springfield Township.

14 of Just Brew’s 16 employees have a disability. Their diagnoses range from various forms of autism to Down syndrome and Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects about 1 in 10,000 people.

“We’re trying to teach transferable professional skills,” said Jennifer Tilford, the store’s manager. “Employees can come – it could be their first job, it could build on what they learned from other jobs, or it could be a reinstatement after COVID-19. Some of our employees had lost positions in other jobs when COVID happened. That now gives them the chance to re-enter the job market. “

Kasey Johnson (L) with Ken Anderson at the Just Brew Coffee House in Silverton, Ohio. (Provided)

Just Brew is a Ken Anderson Alliance (KAA) initiative that provides support services and community service to adults with developmental disabilities in Cincinnati. The cafe is located in a large storefront at the KAA headquarters on Plainfield Road.

“We are always looking for job opportunities for those we serve. When we got our new office, we had the idea for a café, ”says Ken Anderson, the agency’s founder. “It really is a pride to see this place come to life.”

Anderson is best known for his skills on the soccer field during the 1970s and 1980s. But the former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback has devoted the second half of his professional career to serving others.

He and his wife Cristy founded the Ken Anderson Foundation to support their nephew Drew, who has a severe form of autism. The goal was to provide resources that will enable Drew and others with autism to “live life to the fullest,” said Anderson.

In 2017 the organization merged with Lighthouse Landing and became KAA. At that time, they expanded their mission to include the broader developmental disability community.

“We want to help people lead successful, independent lives. That includes having a meaningful job that pays real wages, ”said Anderson. “We want to help people achieve this, be it at Just Brew or elsewhere.”

Just Brew officially opened on Monday, the day after the country celebrated the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The tape cut took place two weeks ago, but they had to pass their final inspection before they could start selling food and drink. The staff used this time to train, familiarize themselves with the menu and hand out free coffee to market the business.

A coffee beverage decorated with the Ken Anderson Alliance logo.

A coffee beverage decorated with the Ken Anderson Alliance logo. (Provided)

Tilford called it “a very busy first official day” with about 100 customers walking through the doors. She was even asked to show off her barista skills.

However, most days she oversees the work training component of the company and supports the employees.

One of them is Rachel Travis. The 23-year-old will sometimes prepare food, but on Monday she was working at the cash register.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I already do a lot with the KAA engagement trips and look forward to working in the café. I’ll learn some new things, work with friends, and talk to a lot of people. “

Kasey Johnson, 24, enjoys the opportunity to learn new professional skills and work with a team. Most of all, she is happy about the customer service.

“People like to drink coffee. Just Brew will be a place where people can meet and have coffee, ”she said. “I just want everyone to have a good day.”

Just Brew may have a bigger purpose, but at the end of the day it’s “just a neighborhood cafe,” said Tilford.

It has a traditional menu of coffee and espresso drinks.

Just Brew uses a coffee maker that streamlines the processes for making some of the more difficult beverages to make. It doesn’t affect what kind of drinks they can make, and it allows Tilford and the other shift supervisor to focus on teaching skills.

Rachel Travis works at the register at the Just Coffee Coffee House.

Rachel Travis works at the register at the Just Coffee Coffee House.

Assistive technology and universal design can be key to making life more accessible for adults with disabilities.

“The machine is great because it simplifies things a little. So a particular latte drink that normally has 10 steps now has two steps. It helps ensure that the employees are in the best possible position for what they are doing here, ”said.

They also sell hot chocolate, tea, and a variety of breakfast items – bagels, oatmeal, yogurt pots, which are put together in-house. The staff also bake gluten-free cake balls and donuts. Several people raved about the chicken salad sandwich.

The salads are freshly made with lettuce grown at O2 Urban Farms, an aquaponics farm on the west side of Cincinnati. It is another KAA work program. It has 10 employees.

“We try to make as many things in-store as possible so that employees get this training,” said Tilford. “So if you want to work elsewhere, you can go straight into a role as a food prep or take orders at a POS system (till), you have experience with it.”

It’s not just about working with KAA, however. There’s a fair amount of game too.

Every month the organization hosts about 20 social events – it can be a day at the ballpark or an evening for dinner and a movie. Sometimes the group volunteers at another non-profit organization like Freestore Foodbank.

About 230 attend it every month. One of them is Tilford’s husband, Gary Finn, who has cerebral palsy.

This is how Tilford connected with KAA at the time. She started volunteering for them in 2017, but has been working with people with special needs since 2002.

Just Brew employee and KAA member Carole Workman

Just Brew employee and KAA member Carole Workman (provided)

She was hired to run Just Brew, in part because of that experience.

The Ken Anderson Alliance has bigger plans for the future. They are going to launch a capital campaign to build a community in Springfield Township.

The Springfield Commons are open to all but cater to the needs of people with developmental disabilities. The expansion of every row house or apartment takes into account the specific needs of the resident.

There will be a community center, bike path, practice facilities and even a nine-hole putt-putt course. Anything that aims to improve the quality of life of the people who live there. Anderson said he hoped the groundbreaking ceremony would take place in January.

Tilford said she always cries when she thinks of the Ken Anderson Alliance and its work. She choked back tears a few times when she mentioned how much the organization and Just Brew mean to her.

“I’ve seen it from a family member’s point of view and now as an employee,” she said. “We’re really doing our best to provide opportunities that allow people to shine.”

Though they’re still in their first week, KAA has plans to open a second coffee shop in the Commons in Springfield. Many workers at that location will likely live in the complex, Tilford said.

“Some people use a person’s diagnosis as an adjective to describe them, but that’s not what defines them,” said Tilford. “We may have team members with Down syndrome, but they are just team members to us.”

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