LivAbility Magazine

Edition 20 | Spring 2020

Karin York, owner of Spencer's Place works at a cash register in the cafe. Behind York is another employee making a drink and menus showing the items for sale on black chalkboards on the wall. York wears a tan beanie on her head, her dark brown hair hangs in a braid that is swept over her left shoulder. York wears a red t-shirt with the Spencer's Place logo and a black apron. York is checking out a customer on an iPad.
Photo by Summer Sorg

Surprise, Arizona coffee shop and bistro with a unique twist

By Kelly Beaubien

The job market is full of different opportunities for many people. However, for those who have cognitive or developmental disabilities, finding and keeping a job can be a struggle. The workforce is not always equipped to train and assist employees who have these types of disabilities. Spencer’s Place in Surprise, Arizona, is trying to change that.

Karin York, a special education teacher, and her family are working hard to create a coffee shop and bistro to help train former students and people with disabilities to be successful in their careers.

“In our program, I developed a transition piece where we did real-world experiences, such as job training, everything,” she said. “Real-world practices like interviews and applications.”

She noticed that her students would struggle with getting and keeping jobs after graduation. She wanted to find a way to help them be successful in finding jobs.

Spencer Nickell, York’s son who has down syndrome and is the shop’s namesake, attends a day program that he qualified for through Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). Every day in the program, he works for a couple of hours, helping at retirement homes and consignment shops.

However, many of York’s students do not qualify for programs or other services through DDD. Places like Advanced Independence have scholarships available, but they are limited to how many they can provide.

A Spencer's Place employee is handing a plastic bag of food to a customer. The employee, a young woman with brown hair, wears the red t-shirt, black sleeves undernearth the red shirt and has her hair pulled into a ponytail and hanging off her right shoulder.
Photo by Summer Sorg
Spencer Nickell, Spencer's Place's namesake, wears a red t-shirt with the Spencer's Place logo in white across the front. Spencer is checking out a customer in Spencer's Place. To his left is another Spencer's Place employee, a young woman in her 20s that wears the same red t-shirt and a gray sweater over the top. She is there to aid Spencer if he needs any assistance.
Photo by Summer Sorg

After much deliberation and brainstorming, York decided to build a program of her own.

The goal: to create a place to help train people with developmental disabilities how to work in various entry-level environments and gain on-the-job experience earning at least minimum wage and tips.

Workers will be given specific jobs for their shifts. They will have a coach there to assist them when needed. Jobs include making various drinks and foods, order delivery, dishwashing and more.

Each position will have a simplified checklist that the employee can use to complete their tasks. As they become more comfortable with the task, they can choose to go without the checklist; however, a coach will still be on-hand to assist if needed.

The Spencer’s Place menu consists of coffees, teas, smoothies, wraps, salads and sandwiches. Spencer said he is most excited about the sandwiches.

“We will be using organic foods and drinks in our shop. We will also be offering gluten-free options for our sandwiches and wraps,” York said. Spencer’s Place will also be working with different coffee and tea companies to gain access to quality products.

A photo shows the hands of an employee pouring a drink from a blender into a plastic cup.
Photo by Summer Sorg

One of the group’s goals is to have mobile coffee carts to take around the Valley.

“We want to go around and help more people become aware of the program. It would be nice to have lots of little carts all over at schools, sporting events, shopping areas.”

York also wants to take this program to other businesses to use for their own employees.

“My master’s is in curriculum writing. My plan is to take this to schools and businesses and give them this guide to help train individuals with disabilities.” She also wants to take guides to doctor’s offices and other offices to help employees better understand how to assist a person with disabilities.

Spencer’s Place opened its doors in late-January.

“I want people to be enlightened and to see how we are not so different. I want people to come for good food and coffee and not realize that this is a training facility,” York said.

Spencer said he hopes people leave with a smile and like the food.

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Kelly Beaubien

Kelly Beaubien

Kelly Beaubien has been a member of the Ability360 family for over five years as a caregiver. Kelly has a bachelor’s in education from Arizona State University and teaches English to ESL students. She is the mother of two boys and wife to Ability360 graphic designer, John Beaubien. In her free time, she enjoys crafting and the occasional live 5k or virtual race.

Read more by Kelly Beaubien.