Downtown Angels: SARRC plans to do a latte good for adults with autism

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Beneficial Beans Café will open in Burton Barr Central Library in March. (Holly Bernstein/DD)
Beneficial Beans Café will open in Burton Barr Central Library in March. (Holly Bernstein/DD)

Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) plans to open a cafe in Burton Barr Central Library in March that will give adults with autism the chance to gain work experience through internships.

Beneficial Beans Café already has a location in Scottsdale Civic Center Library, but the idea to open a downtown location was born about two years ago, according to SARRC’s Social Enterprise Director Kate Thoene.

Thoene said the cafe in Scottsdale opened in 2012, and the leadership at SARRC wanted to be an innovative nonprofit. Thoene said SARRC had a great relationship with a local coffee roaster, which then blossomed into the first cafe and led to their expansion.

“We started talking to the library staff and members of the city about this space, because it has been vacant for five years,” Thoene said. “We were basically waiting for the city to release a request for proposal, an RFP, so that we could bid on managing the space and operating the cafe location here at Burton Barr.”

After a long process, City Council approved a five-year contract in December for the social enterprise program.

Adults with autism aged 18 and up will get the opportunity to work either in the Beneficial Beans Garden or one of the Beneficial Beans Cafés, Thoene said. Participants will work alongside staff members to gain technical and general skills for employment.

“Kind of a dress rehearsal to work, we like to refer to it as,” said Thoene. “Once they’ve gone through a customized internship that will meet their needs depending on their goals, their strengths, their weaknesses, then they will work with our employment team to identify a job in the community that they will be successful at.”

The Beneficial Beans Café will serve sandwiches, salads, soups and toast along with a full espresso bar and fresh pastries. Thoene said the cafe will cater as well.

“If you’re having a meeting here at the library, we can cater that meeting. If you want to help support adults with autism, you can order catering from us and come pick it up,” Thoene said.

She said all of the proceeds from any social enterprise activity benefit adults with autism, and all of the funds go right back into SARRC programming.

Downtown’s Beneficial Beans Café is expected to open March 1, according to SARRC’s Social Enterprise Coordinator Sarah Sanchez. Member of SARRC began creating a project plan as soon as the organization was awarded the space.

“It’s been in here ever since,” Sanchez said. “Just painting, and remodeling and developing the menu and developing the training programs specific to the space.”

Sanchez said the training internship is a 12-week program. “Once we have an intern that is interested in what we’re doing, then they will call the main number. We’ll get them set up with a clinician and set their goals and track their progress.”

She said each internship is individualized and that the clinicians make sure they know each intern’s goals for employment.

“What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What do they want to do?” Sanchez said. “The clinician is there to help them set their goals and track their progress, and then when they come to us, they are here in the cafe for six weeks, Monday through Thursday for a four-hour session, so we can have interns in the morning and interns in the afternoon.”

Sanchez said when the interns’ six weeks are completed at the cafe, they will continue to work with their clinician for an additional six weeks working on interview skills, building their resume, completing mock interviews and getting ready for work and community-based employment.

Sanchez said 90 percent of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed. “Within SARRC’s Beneficial Beans training program, 75 percent of our graduates are employed,” she said.

Contact the reporter at Holly.Bernstein@asu.edu.