“Really? How is work a gift?” you may be wondering. That claim understandably draws skepticism. After all, work can be unpleasant, difficult, and even dangerous. Some people spend the better part of their day, and their lives, trying to avoid work. So, why call work a gift?
First, work is a source of livelihood for most of us. We’re able to put food on the table and pay bills because we work. Even more, however, meaningful work provides a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. When we’re fortunate enough to do work that we’re good at and enjoy, work isn’t a curse, it’s a blessing.
Unfortunately, however, some people, don’t get the opportunity to work, through no fault of their own. Because they have a disability, others assume they can’t do certain jobs and, therefore, regard them as unemployable. Such is the situation for many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs).
In 2016, Amy and Ben Wright opened Bitty & Beau's Coffee Shop in Wilmington, NC because they wanted to make the world a more welcoming place for those living with IDDs. Some organizations might advance such a mission by donating a portion of their profits to a worthy cause. The Wrights, however, act out their convictions in an even more direct way—they employ about 40 wonderful people who happen to have IDDs.
Why would the Wrights want to take on such a unique and likely challenging task? For one thing, the owners have a direct connection to their special employee base. Bitty and Beau, the shop’s namesakes and the Wright’s two youngest children, both have Down syndrome. So, parental compassion is understandable at play.
What’s more, the Wrights are moved by the fact that “70 percent of adults with intellectual and physical disabilities do not have jobs.” But, do people with IDDs need to work? Certainly, someone will provide for them if they can’t do so for themselves. Amy Wright reiterates this blog post’s opening as she explains why the value of work is much more than earning an income:
“Having a workplace that makes you feel proud of yourself and gives you a sense of community is something we all want. For our employees, I feel like it's the first time they've had that. We figured out what their skill set was and we plugged them in. They're proud to be employed by Bitty and Beau's Coffee, and they will shout it from the rooftops. It's given them purpose and a sense of being valued in ways that we take for granted.”
One of those employees, Jesse, shares why she values her work:
“My job gives me confidence and helps me grow as a person. My job brings me joy and happiness.”
Bitty & Beau’s clearly makes a big difference in the lives of the people it employs; however, that’s not the end of the impact. There’s another group of people who are also very positively influenced: the coffee shop’s customers.
A key part of Bitty & Beau’s mission is also to “bring the community together and to help people with and without disabilities spend time together.” That interaction is an overwhelmingly positive and often eye-opening experience for customers. Amy Wright again explains:
“Creating (Bitty & Beau’s) has given people a way to interact with people with disabilities that (they) never had before. This is a safe place where people can test the waters and realize how much more alike we are than different.”
Of course, not everyone welcomes the opportunity to interact with individuals who are different than they are, but plenty of other people do, and it’s that latter group that has helped make Bitty and Beau’s a success. Yes, the customers like the products, but “they really come in for the unique customer service experience,” which transforms individuals and can “forever change the way communities view those with IDD.” As testament to that success, the Wrights plan to open a second location of Bitty & Beau’s soon in Charleston, SC.
By providing meaningful work for individuals with IDDs, Bitty & Beau’s gives an invaluable gift to an often-marginalized group of people. Those passionate employees, in turn, bless the many customers who frequent the coffee shop, attracted by a truly unique value proposition. In short, Bitty & Beau’s is an excellent example of “Mindful Marketing.”