Dirt Coffee/TACT Partnership Spotlight | April 2018
Daniel Boone said he feels like Santa Claus at work.
“We go around and bring happiness to people,” Boone said, wearing his trademark conductor's hat as he served up java from the window of the Dirt Coffee van. “It's more than serving coffee. I serve smiles.”
Dirt, the famous Littleton-based coffee operation that trains and employs people with autism, is moving into its first brick and mortar store this spring, set to open in early May in an old home at 5767 S. Rapp St., just north of Arapahoe Community College.
Dirt, the brainchild of executive director Lauren Burgess, has been serving up brews from its van since 2013. Since then, the outfit has employed 32 people with autism — members of a demographic that experiences 90 percent unemployment or underemployment, Burgess said.
“That's not because people with autism don't want a job or don't have the skills,” Burgess said. “It's because our community doesn't yet recognize individuals with autism as being employable.”
Dirt has already endeared the community to its employees, Burgess said, and she hopes to expand the relationship with a bigger operation.
“Our shop is meant to be a starting place not only for people with autism to get job experience, but also through our coffee sales to connect with the community to show them people with autism are as capable as anyone,” Burgess said.
The experience has meant a lot to Boone, who was the company's employee of the year in 2016.
“This is my first job,” Boone said. “I've learned to make lattes, mochas, all that good stuff.”
Students from TACT — or Teaching the Autism Community Trades — finished the inside of the building, said Amanda Therrien, a TACT teacher.
Students helped knock down walls in the old house, creating an open, airy interior with rustic finishes.
“Until someone has the opportunity to show you what they're capable of, they might not even know themselves,” Therrien said, adding that students were thrilled by the outcome.
Burgess said the shop will offer a wide range of coffee, as well as wine, beer on tap, and paninis. She hopes to train and employ 50 to 100 people with autism in the first year, both through direct employment and paid internships.
Though longtime customers will still be able to catch the coffee truck at farmer's markets, she hopes folks will come meet her friends as they blossom in the new shop.
“People with autism are incredible humans,” Burgess said. “They're authentic, they're smart, they're funny. If you want an honest opinion, ask someone with autism. They'll tell you what they really think.”
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